WHO fears resurgence of Covid-19 after reopening of schools

Updated 24 Sep 2020

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Documented transmission among children and staff within educational settings is limited because so many countries closed schools and children have largely remained at home during intense periods of community transmission. — Reuters/File
Documented transmission among children and staff within educational settings is limited because so many countries closed schools and children have largely remained at home during intense periods of community transmission. — Reuters/File

PESHAWAR: The World Health Organisation is concerned about non-observance of standard operating procedures relating to prevention Covid-19 in educational institutes and has called for adherence to social distancing, hand-washing and wearing mask along with infection prevention measures in schools to stay safe from the pandemic.

The WHO officials told Dawn that continuation of educational activities without precautionary measures could snowball into resurgence of coronavirus, which was presently on the decline.

The Islamabad-based senior WHO officials said they had issued advisory to the government regarding school-related public health measures in the context of Covid-19 on September 14 to prevent recurrence of the pandemic. The reopening of educational institutes needed steps to minimise the risk to students and staff, they said.

Advises strict enforcement of SOPs in educational institutions

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reported 60 confirmed Covid-19 cases in 34 schools since September 15 with less than two per cent positivity ratio but the world health agency suggests that those tested positives are asymptomatic but can still be cause of transmitting the virus to others.

The officials said that cases of severe respiratory syndrome (SARS) were being reported from the local hospitals that could cause resurrection of Covid-19 in general population.

They said that it was observed that there was lack of coordination between education and health departments regarding the implementation of SOPs. They added that WHO had already warned against complacency with regard to safety measures against the Covid-19.

According to the advisory, there should be complete set of SOPs in all institutions for children under the age of 18 years. However, there was lack of SOPs in schools and most of the teachers, staff and students didn’t follow the physical distancing, mask and other precautions that could lead to surge in the cases, said the WHO officials.

Based on the best available data, Covid-19 appears to have a limited direct effect on children’s health, accounting for about 8.5 per cent of reported cases globally, and very few deaths.

In contrast, closure of schools has clear negative impacts on child health, education and development, family income and the overall economy. National and local governments should consider prioritising continuity of education by investing in comprehensive, multi-layered measures, said the advisory.

All decisions should be made for continuity of education for children, their overall well-being, health and safety. Nonetheless, all decisions will have implications on children, parents or caregivers, teachers and other staff and more broadly, their communities and societies.

From a public health perspective, deciding to close or reopen schools should be guided by a risk-based approach, taking into consideration the epidemiology of Covid-19 at the local level, the capacity of educational institutions to adapt their system to operate safely, it said.

Documented transmission among children and staff within educational settings is limited because so many countries closed schools and children have largely remained at home during intense periods of community transmission.

According to the advisory, 28 to 33 studies in educational settings suggest that introduction of virus generally started with infected adults and staff-to-staff transmission was more common than staff to student transmission, and student-to-student transmission was rare. However, second wave of the pandemic started in many countries and Pakistan was no exception, it said.

Officials said that government needed to put in place infection prevention and control measures and disinfect the classrooms or schools that were closed due to the detection of cases, prior to reopening them. The school staff should be trained on infection prevention measures, they said.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2020