Barring a last-minute change of mind, the Narendra Modi government is unlikely to allow the reopening of schools in the next phase of easing of restrictions that is expected next week, according to top officials involved in the discussions related to this.
The officials, who asked not to be named added that metro rail services too may not start soon while gymnasium and swimming pools might also remain out of bounds, as part of the measures to check the further spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
After a 68 day hard lockdown ended on may 31, the government has announced two phases it termed Unlock 1.0 and Unlock 2.0, in June and July respectively. Each phase has allowed more activities across domains — in an effort to revive economic activity, and return to a semblance of normalcy.
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To be sure, most activities have been allowed only outside so-called containment zones where there are still clusters of infections. And states have been allowed the freedom to impose restrictions again if they feel the need to. India continues to see the number of Covid-19 cases rise. It added 48,458 cases on Saturday to take its total case tally to 1,383,959.
The HRD ministry on Monday began consultation with states and other stakeholders on reopening of schools which have been closed since March due to the pandemic. In the meeting chaired by the Secretary, School Education, Anita Karwal, state education secretaries also deliberated upon health and safety of students, hygiene measures in schools and issues regarding online and digital education.
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Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ said in June that suggestions would be sought from parents on schools repoening, which would be examined and sent to the health ministry and ministry of home affairs.
After an extensive consultation, the HRD ministry has conveyed to the Centre’s Covid-19 sitaution managers that many parents don’t favour reopening of schools at this stage. “HRD ministry told us that many parents have even requested that schools be opened only after the vaccine is developed,” said one of the officials cited above. India will start the trial of the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine next month and top official are hopeful that if the trials are successful, the vaccine can be rolled out by December.
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“We need to be very careful about schools because children’s health is of paramount importance,” said a second official.
HT also learns that while there is a recognition that metro services will help the situation return to normal, it still comes with attendant risks, especially in cities such as Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore. Suburban train services have been operational in Mumbai since June 15, although they are meant only for workers providing essential services.
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Large congregation, which have been banned from the beginning of the lockdown, may continue to be prohibited. The government has already decided to celebrate Independence Day with such restrictions in place and even the At Home at Rashtrapati Bhawan on the afternoon of Independence Day is being scaled down significantly.
On Friday, cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba told nine states at a special review meeting that two to three-day lockdowns alone are not enough to slow the spread of the disease — some states have started imposing such lockdowns — and pointed out while some states have demonstrated “the situation can be turned around” others have “showed how it can deteriorate”.