ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka can discuss reopening schools soon after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted on October 01 as the virus is less likely to spread in a school environment than it would be in a restaurant, Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) President Dr Anurdudha Padeniya said.
Speaking at a discussion organised by the President’s Media Divisin (PMD) on Thursday (23), Padeniya said research published in the the UK medical journal The Lancet makes a case for reopening schools once the ongoing lockdown is lifted.
“When we open the country on October 01, most restaurants will also open. So why can’t we discuss opening schools in parallel to that?” said Padeniya.
According to the Lancet, a study in Italy has showed that school students are largely protected from being infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, irrespective of their school cycle.
“To first gain insight into the diffusion of COVID-19 in Italian schools, we compared the incidence of new SARS-CoV-2 positives in the period and per week among students, teachers, and non-teaching staff members of elementary, middle, and high schools to the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 positivity in the general population for each region. The incidence of positives among students was lower than that in the population (overall incidence: 108/10,000), irrespective of whether we analysed elementary and middle schools (incidence: 66/10,000), or high schools (incidence: 98/10,000). Incidence of new positives among elementary and middle school students was on average 38.9% lower than in the general population in all Italian regions but Lazio,” the paper said.
In the case of high schools, incidence of new positives among the students was 9% lower than that of the general population. In the three regions of Lazio, Marche, and Emilia-Romagna, it was higher than in the general population. Among teachers and non-teaching staff, incidence was two-fold higher than that observed in the general population (approx. 220/10,000).
“These data indicate that students are largely protected from SARS-CoV-2 infection, irrespective of their school cycle. Conversely, infection appears to be more widespread among teachers and non-teaching staff members of schools than in the general population. Of note, while teachers share classrooms for several hours with students, non-teaching staff members include administrative personnel and janitors who seldom interact with students,” the study noted.
“In the Lancet journal, they have calculated the spread of virus when schools open. Most people thought that the spread would be higher in lower grades because children in those grades do not tend to follow health guidelines and that the spread in higher grades would be lower. But the data showed the complete opposite,” said Padeniya.
Meanwhile, vaccination of children between 12-19 years of age with congenital disorders and other comorbidities began at the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital (LRHC) on Thursday. According to the State Minister Channa Jayasumana, vaccinating this demographic in the rest of the island will begin on October 04.
After vaccinating children with congenital conditions, students aged 15-19 will be jabbed, he said.
“Just because we prioritise the vaccination of children with congenital disorders it doesn’t mean it is a pilot project. We are doing it after analysing all the data and according to recommendations made by international health organisations,” said Padeniya.
“All these health and children’s organisations speak in favour of opening schools. If a person who works at an office doesn’t go to the office for a few months, it won’t change much. But if a child had to stay at home, then he or she wouldn’t be able to get that experience in that specific grade for the rest of their life.”
Sri Lankan students of grades 1 to 5 in schools with a student population of 200 or fewer may soon be able to go back to school, according to Education Ministry Secretary Kapila Perera.
However, no decision has yet been made about reopening all schools islandwide.