NEPAL- Kathmandu should not rush to reopen schools as children are at risk, experts say
The City of Kathmandu is reportedly preparing to reopen schools next week. Stakeholders suspect the decision is guided by vested interests.Children are at higher risk as they are not vaccinated and Nepal doesn’t have enough paediatric health facilities and health workers to handle a pandemic, experts say.
On Thursday, when Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s education department announced its plans to allow schools to reopen from next week, Shiva Raj Adhikari, the principal of the Sanskrit Secondary School on the Durbar High School premises, was resting at home with Covid-19.
“I have been in bed rest for a week and both of my children are also infected,” Adhikari told the Post on the phone. “I think it would be a mistake to reopen the schools now,” said Adhikari, whose school has 400 students.
On Wednesday, the Valley authorities further eased the Covid-19 restrictions and announced that schools can reopen after obtaining permission from their local units, which need to seek permission for the same from the District Covid-19 Crisis Management Center concerned.
“On Wednesday, Kathmandu’s chief district officer informed us that local units can give permission to reopen schools. We have also found that the coronavirus infection rate has also come down so we are planning to allow schools to reopen from next week, maybe from Monday or Tuesday,” said Ram Prasad Subedi, the chief of the education department of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
He said the department will study the infection situation on Friday and Saturday and decide accordingly.
However, educationalists and the Guardians Federation say they think the government decision is guided by vested interests. “This is a result of commercialization of education. Private schools have been pressuring the government to allow them to reopen schools so that they can bill the students full fees and other expenses, but experts have been saying that children are the most prone Covid-19 infection as they are not vaccinated,” said Binay Kusiyait, a professor at Tribhuvan University.
On Thursday the country reported 2,004 new cases of Covid-19 and 16 virus-related fatalities. Likewise, Kathmandu Valley recorded 793 new infections in the past 24 hours. Of these, 541 cases were found in Kathmandu, 152 in Lalitpur and 100 in Bhaktapur.
“I see a sinister game here because we might be inviting a catastrophe all because of the government’s immature decision,” said Kusiyait, while urging the Kathmandu Metropolitan City to think of alternatives until at least Dashain.
A total of 640 private and 91 community schools fall under the purview of the education department of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
Similarly, Suprabhat Bhandari, chairperson of the Guardians Federation Nepal says he is opposed to reopening of schools in cities like Kathmandu, where the number of active Covid-19 cases are high. “It might be okay to allow schools in rural areas with fewer infections and fewer students to resume classes in person, but not in Kathmandu,” said Bhandari. Arguing that most students in rural areas do not have access to the internet and computer or mobile phones and their studies have been affected, Bhandari said such schools should be allowed to resume physical classes by following health protocols.
Schools and colleges across the country were closed since March 18 last year and after nearly nine months, from the third week of January this year, some of them reopened only to be closed three months later.
Earlier, in the third week of May when the infection rate was still high, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City had decided to allow schools to conduct exams.
Doctors also think that school reopening increases the risk of Covid-19 infection.
“We are still in the danger zone because the daily infection numbers are still high at over 1,000,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku.
“The government should put in place an effective system for monitoring the infection situation and a control mechanism before allowing schools to resume classes in person, as the Delta variant could still trigger a third wave,” said Pun.
He says children are at higher risk as they are not vaccinated and that Nepal doesn’t have enough pediatric health facilities and health workers to handle a pandemic situation.
Durbar High School’s principal Adhikari, meanwhile, says it will be difficult to make children follow the Covid safety protocols including physical distancing.
“Just around a month remains for the Dashian holidays, so they should not be rushing to reopen schools. What if the children took infections home and infected their family members?,” said Adhikari.