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    School reopening in India should be graded and gradual, says WHO’s Dr Roderico Ofrin

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    School reopening in India should be graded and gradual, says WHO’s Dr Roderico Ofrin

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    Dr Roderico Ofrin, WHO Representative to India, said school is an important aspect in the development of a child's health, social development, mental health and cognitive development.

    The number of active cases in India increased to 38,353 in the past 24 hours, a rise of over 10,000 cases since Monday. However, the active caseload at 3,86,000 is the lowest in 140 days. The government has also expressed concern over the R-value or reproduction rate of COVID-19. States such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala have been reporting 52 percent of total COVID cases in the country in the past seven days. Eight states in India have either reopened schools or will reopen them shortly. India has so far administered more than 52 crore vaccine doses.
    There has been rise in cases due to the Delta variant in China, the US and the UK, while the situation in India has been relatively stable. To get a view on the COVID situation in India, the risks for the future, India's vaccination programme, guidance on school reopening; CNBC-TV18 spoke to Dr Roderico Ofrin, WHO Representative to India.
    On India's COVID situation
    Ofrin said the Delta variant is the dominant variant for India since the second wave in April, and so the way forward really is to look at this in a more early warning type of situation. “One has to look at the states, districts level are changing situations over the past week. So looking at test positivity rate of a district, the change of percentage of cases from one week to the next, and the cases per million. This will give good handle of where the situation is headed,” he said.
    “The earlier you are able to act on these early warning signs. And I would say that we should be lowering thresholds on this so that you are ahead of the game,” Ofrin said, adding that is really the way to go for any outbreak. Something like this happening in all states is or all countries in the world gives you a heads up, you have enough time to contain, investigate clusters and stop transmission,” he added.
    Guidance on reopening of schools:
    “I would say that the reopening of schools is first and foremost is an important thing to the development of a child. It's a child's health, social development and mental health and apart from its child's cognitive development.
    "Reopening of schools should be graded and gradual. The children have been out of school for long and they're losing out on certain benefits of a total developmental approach for a child, which is the goal of a school,” he said.
    What does that mean? A school needs to have a risk assessment -- what are the risks in the community in which the school is located. Are the number of cases high? Is the transmission high? What is the vaccination coverage for COVID in that area? And, weigh decisions around this to risk mitigation.
    So, if a school is able to plan very well -- a phased approach, changing schedules like maybe every other day or different batches during the day -- so that it's not a crowded school that children go to, would be a very helpful approach to where children are exposed again to school, exposed again to learning in that environment, he said.
    “Also, within risk mitigation comes providing hand washing stations, sanitation, and space that is schedule the groups of students that come in and so have space more space in the classrooms, if possible and needed wearing a mask, providing a mask would be very helpful. Hygiene in schools that serve food, so that other diseases are avoided.”
    Ventilation is also important, he said, adding, “These are the risk mitigation measures that need to be in place. And the last is really ensuring that students continue to study.”
    Ofrin said another essential step would be all the teachers are vaccinated because the school has to be connected to the public health system and doesn’t have to decide on all of this alone. Another thing to ensure that students continue to study would be an opportunity to actually expand access to digital learning for those who don't have it because at least that would ease the days that child would have to be in school and then provide more learning in that environment, he added.
    WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL) for COVAXIN
    “So as far as I can tell you is that the Bharat Biotech has submitted a lot of information already to apply for the emergency use listing. There's a whole process to this and I can't say when that date will come because sometimes these reviews would ask for information, etc. And with regards meetings with the manufacturers, etc. So that application is in process, which began sometime in early July and I am not sure where it is now, in terms of the discussions of the committee that is evaluating this. All I can say to it's ongoing,” said Dr Ofrin.
    For the entire discussion, watch the video
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