New Delhi: As India experiences a fast-growing second wave of COVID-19, only 25 per cent parents are willing to send their wards to school in April, as per a survey by LocalCircles.
With B.1.1.7 known for high transmissibility within children, the majority of parents have expressed concerns.
There are 73 per cent of parents who believe that physical schools must not operate if active cases in the district are above 100.
As per feedback in the survey and given the massive surge in the COVID cases experienced in the last three weeks, the default option for the schools should be closure from April to June.
Exceptions may be taken on the basis of active case numbers in a particular district along with the variant-type reported, the daily case curve to authorize District Magistrates to permit schools to operate as long as active cases are less than 100.
As far as the scheduled Board Exams for Class 10 and 12 in the month of May is concerned, the Central and State Boards will need to make a decision based on the national situation. The feasibility of conducting the board exam both online and offline does deserve consideration.
The survey found that three data points released last week are of great concern.
First, the Chief Minister of Punjab announced that of the genome testing done by the state, 81 per cent of the COVID-19 samples were found to be of B.1.1.7 i.e., the UK variant of SARS-COV2.
The next day, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the B.1.1.7, which is fast spreading in the country, is more transmissible than the original strain and is more dangerous to children and young people, and we need to put the protection of schools more front and centre than with the original virus.
The day after she said this, the city of Bengaluru in the month of March reported approximately 500 cases of COVID in children under the age of 10.
The kind of COVID surge experienced in many parts of India that have led to 6 times growth in daily cases in the last 45 days, indicates that there is a different strain or two from the original one that is propagating in the country.
With limited genome testing (being done on less than 5 per cent of the samples), only 700 or so cases of B.1.1.7 have been officially identified.
Taking cognizance of the alarming rise of COVID-19 in several states and districts across the country in the last 45 days, LocalCircles decided to conduct another survey to understand if parents are willing to send their children to school in April, and also to determine a criterion that can be used to open schools.
Given the latest rise in COVID cases, only 25 per cent parents willing to send their children to school in April.
The first question in the survey sought to understand parents' perception to send their children or grandchildren to school in April if the Central or State Government or District administration decide that schools should remain open or re-open.
In response, only 25 per cent of parents said "Yes". The majority of 58 per cent of parents said "No". There were also 10 per cent of parents who said that "schools for my children or grandchildren are shut in April for summer break", while 7 per cent couldn't say. The poll in the survey received 9,687 responses.
The COVID-19 daily caseload in India has again crossed the 65,000-mark, more than 6 times of cases recorded in early February. Maharashtra, the top contributing state is seeing the highest-ever peaks to date with over 40,000 cases being reported in a day.
With data from many European nations demonstrating the dangerous nature of the B.1.1.7 strain of the Coronavirus, confirmation that Punjab has 81 per cent of the cases of the B.1.1.7 type, and the fact that it is proven to be impacting children much more than the previous strain of 2020, it is time to be more cautious than before.
At the same time, realising that many districts in the country still have double-digit active COVID cases, board exams are around the corner for classes 10 and 12 and many schools do not have the facility to conduct online classes, LocalCircles sought the opinion of parents on what should be the criteria for re-opening physical schools.
In response, 29 per cent said "in-person schools be closed whenever active cases in a district exceed 100"; 18 per cent said "in-person schools be closed whenever active cases in a district exceed 200"; 7 per cent said "in-person schools be closed whenever active cases in a district exceed 500", and 5 per cent said "in-person schools be closed whenever active cases in district exceed 1000".
Breaking down the poll, 21 per cent said "schools should be kept closed till there are any cases in the district", while 6 per cent couldn't say. The findings of the poll indicated that 73 per cent of parents want schools from the next session to be open as long as there are less than 100 active COVID cases in their district.