Amid Omicron scare, is it safe to send kids to schools? A doctor answers

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While schools across the country were gradually moving back to offline mode from digital studies, a new strain of Covid-19 Omicron may interrupt the process. 

Kids in India are currently among the unvaccinated population and thus at risk of getting infected. According to health officials in South Africa, the hospitalizations among children under five are increasing.

While India has approved emergency-use authorisation to two vaccines for children – Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, it is yet to start the vaccination process.

It is natural for parents to reconsider their decision of sending kids to school in such a situation and doctors agree with their concern.

ALSO READ: ‘Parents must get vaccinated’: Doctors’ solution to protecting kids from Omicron

“While we do not know all about this virus which started as the Wuhan virus and then evolved into alpha, beta and then into delta form but we are definitely wiser now than in March 2020 when the first lockdown in country was announced. We have learnt that had we not closed schools and implemented a strict lockdown it would have acquired totally unmanageable dimensions,” says Dr. Krishan Chugh, Director & HOD, Pediatrics & PICU, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.

The expert says while the disease is said to be less severe in children, there are other important factors that need to be considered before sending children to school.

“First, is it possible or practical to practice the three standard precautions to be followed to prevent the spread of the virus – face mask, distancing and strict hand and face hygiene in the class, in the activity period and in the tiffin break. An honest answer is a big NO. Similarly, we can’t be sure that disease will be mild in all the cases, after all a few children have required hospital care and rarely even deaths have been recorded. And when children get the infection in the school there is an increased chance of their carrying it back to home and infecting their grandparents who may be living with them. And the disease can be devastating in older people,” says Dr Chugh.

Is it the right time to conduct offline exams?

As far as conducting offline exams is concerned, the expert says only children above 14 years should go for it, while the younger ones should continue with online mode.

“With the latest emergence of Omicron variant, as kids are not vaccinated yet, it might not be that much safe, and it has already become the reason of worry among many parents. Not having the annual exams is not the answer. Nor can we risk lives. Current status of the pandemic in most districts of our country is such that exams can be conducted with all the possible precautions for the children aged beyond 14 years while the younger ones (below 14 years) can be allowed to give online examinations only, as of now. In most parts of our country final exams are held in the months of March and April and the pandemic situation will hopefully improve further by then and we will be able to bring academics back on rails,” concludes Dr Chugh.

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