International COVID 19 Health experts: School reopening increases Covid-19 infection risk among multi-generational families, but...

Health experts: School reopening increases Covid-19 infection risk among multi-generational families, but here’s what can be done

On the risk of resuming physical classes

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KUALA LUMPUR — Following the reopening of schools earlier this week, health experts contacted by Malay Mail have agreed that there is a risk of students bringing home the Covid-19 virus, and in turn infecting members of their multi-generational families – especially endangering the elderly, who make up the bulk of Covid-19 -related deaths.

While there is a consensus that schools should be reopened to allow students to catch up on the education they have missed out on due to multiple school closures in the past 12 months, the experts, however, suggested ways to minimise the risk of infection.

“The risk is always there, both from children and teachers. I hope that SOPs are taught to parents as well, that when children get home, they wash their hands, change out of their uniforms, shower and so on, before they mingle,” said Dr Saraswathi Bina Rai.

The Aimst University associate professor and public health specialist said those involved would have to get used to the SOPs laid out by the government, the most basic of which is physical-distancing measures and the wearing of face masks.

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Other SOPs include limiting parents to remaining outside school premises when picking up or dropping off their children, and children sanitising their hands before entering school grounds.

“What is being done now is to bring the students back in stages and that’s the way to go. Help a section adapt to the new norms, and then slowly introduce the others.

“And these grandparents should be advised to take the vaccine. Actually, vaccines are the way to go and we should encourage all those who can take the vaccine to do so,” said Dr Bina.

Covid-19 vaccines reached Malaysia’s shores on February 21, and the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme is already underway, aiming to vaccinate some 500,000 frontline workers – including teachers – by April.

Those vulnerable to Covid-19, such as people aged 60 and above, or those with chronic diseases, will begin receiving vaccines during the programme’s second phase occurring from May to July – followed by the remainder of adults aged 18 and above.

Schoolchildren will not be receiving the vaccines as clinical trials have not covered those below the age of 18.

Agreeing with Dr Bina was Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Professor Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy who said vaccination was the main way to keep families safe from Covid-19.

“Parents of children with certain medical conditions, which may put them at high risk of severe illness from Covid-19, should consult a doctor to see if their child can physically attend school,” he added.

Consultant paediatrician Datuk Dr Amar Singh HSS emphasised high student populations in urban schools, saying that it is vital to reduce congestion and its effects, such as insufficient air ventilation.

“One key limitation now in the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) SOP is ventilation. Ventilation of fresh air – not recirculated air-conditioner air – in classrooms, and changing air volume four to five times per hour is key. We need low-cost measures to get this to happen,” he said.

Dr Amar also suggested effective risk communication and community engagement, along with hybrid-attendance models – where students are given a staggered school attendance plan – to reduce on-premises student density.

“We should be mobilising additional teachers to allow more classes, such as with unemployed graduates and retired teachers We also need to prioritise teachers for vaccines early to protect the children,” he said.

In mid-February, Education Minister Datuk Mohd Radzi Md Jidin announced that schools would reopen on March 1 to preschoolers as well as Primary 1 and Primary 2 students, with the remaining primary schoolers to follow on March 8.

Secondary school students are set to return in the first week of April.

Meanwhile, those taking the SPM 2020 exams – which were delayed due to the pandemic – returned to school in January, with the exams themselves taking place from February 22 to March 25.Follow us on Social Media

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