In the backdrop of the ongoing ‘Unlock 4’, partial resumption of activities in schools for students of classes 9-12 will be allowed from 21 September, the union health ministry on Tuesday. Guidelines related to coronavirus have also been issued to ensure smooth school operations.
However, only schools outside the containment zones will be allowed to open. Assemblies, sports and events, which can lead to overcrowding, are strictly prohibited in the schools that are opting to start operations. The government also said that online or distance learning shall continue to be permitted and shall be encouraged.
“Students of class 9th to 12th shall be permitted to visit their school on voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers. This will be subject to written consent of their parents/guardians. Such visits and teacher – student interaction must be organized in a staggered manner,” state the standard operation procedures (SOPs) issued by the health ministry.
Further, students, teachers and employees living in containment zones will not be allowed to attend the school. Students, teachers and employees shall also be advised not to visit areas falling within containment zones as per the health ministry guidelines adding that the schools that were used as quarantine centres will be properly sanitized and deep cleaned before partial functioning is resumed.
Only asymptomatic people (teachers, employees and students) will be allowed in the school premises as per the guidelines. If a teacher/employee/student is found to be symptomatic, he/she should be referred to nearest health centre, the SOPs state.
The guidelines stated that the concerned teaching- and non-teaching employees (up to 50 % of the strength) may be called to schools for online teaching/tele-counselling and related work. Apart from mandatory masks, following regular sanitisation, respiratory etiquettes, hand washing in schools, the health ministry said that at all times, the teachers and students shall maintain a physical distancing of 6 feet apart, wherever feasible. Seating arrangement has to ensure a distance of 6 feet between chairs, desks etc.
The health ministry has advised that weather permitting, outdoor spaces may be utilized for conducting teacher student interactions, keeping in view the safety and security of students and physical distancing protocols.
“Cleaning and regular disinfection (using 1% sodium hypochlorite) of frequently touched surfaces (door knobs, elevator buttons, hand rails, chairs, benches, washroom fixtures, etc.) to be made Page 5 of 5 mandatory in all class rooms, laboratories, lockers, parking areas, other common areas etc. before beginning of classes and at the end of the day,” the guidelines state.
As during the covid-19 pandemic, there have been instances of mental health issues among students, the health ministry has said that the schools should ensure regular counselling is done for students and teachers reporting mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It is advisable that teachers, school counsellors and school health workers should work in unison to ensure emotional safety of the students, say SOPs.
Similar SOPs were also issued on preventive measures to contain spread of covid-19 in skill or entrepreneurship training institutions, higher educational institutions conducting doctoral courses and post graduate studies in technical and professional programs requiring laboratory /experimental work.
India continues to grapple with pandemic as the number of covid-19 cases continue to increase. The total tally of cases on Tuesday reached 42,85,174 with 73,208 people succumbing to the highly infectious disease. According to health ministry, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are the five states which account for 62% of the active cases. Maharashtra’s share is around 27% of the total active cases, which in terms of absolute numbers is 2.37 lakhs. This apart, nearly 70% of the COVID-19 related deaths are also being reported from 5 states, that is, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
“The states where active cases are mostly concentrated are also, more or less, accounting for most of the deaths. Hence, from the perspective of public health, it is important to take targeted actions in these states, both by the state and Central Governments,” said Rajesh Bhushan, Union Health Secretary.
India has been actively engaged in covid-19 vaccine development. The government on Tuesday said that Russia has requested India’s help in manufacturing of vaccine by Indian companies and conduct of Phase-III studies in India. Also, India attaches high importance to the request from a special friend and on both fronts, there has been considerable progress. “We are working with this vaccine candidate for manufacture as well as trial and regulatory facilitation, in the spirit of partnership and science for humanity. The outreach has been extended to the vaccine manufacturers in India,” said V.K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog.
“About four of them have already come forward, the others are in talks with the Russian counterparts and the Government is facilitating that process of creating a connect. There may be specific outcomes very soon in that regard. India can manufacture that vaccine in large and significant quantities. On the regulatory front, Indian scientists have looked at the data. There would be a need for Phase III trials in normal course of things,” he said.