More students in India will be able to step inside a classroom for the first time in nearly 18 months Wednesday, as authorities gave the green light to partially reopen more schools despite apprehension from some parents and signs that infections are picking up again.
Schools and colleges in at least six more states are reopening in a gradual manner with health measures in place throughout September. In New Delhi, all staff must be vaccinated and class sizes will be capped at 50 per cent with staggered seating and sanitized desks.
In the capital only students in grades nine through 12 will be allowed to attend at first, though it is not compulsory. Some parents say they will be holding their children back, including Nalini Chauhan, who lost her husband to the coronavirus last year.
“That trauma is there for us and that is what stops me from going out. We don’t go to malls. We don’t go shopping. So why schools now?” she said.
Life has been slowly returning to normal in India after the trauma of a ferocious coronavirus surge earlier this year ground life in the country to a halt, sickened tens of millions and left hundreds of thousands dead. A number of states returned last month to in-person learning for some age groups.
Daily new infections have fallen sharply since their peak of more than 400,000 in May. But on Saturday, India recorded 46,000 new cases, the highest in nearly two months.
The uptick has raised questions over reopening schools, with some warning against it. Others say the virus risk to children remains low and opening schools is urgent for poorer students who lack access to the internet, making online learning nearly impossible.
“The simple answer is there is never a right time to do anything during a pandemic,” said Jacob John, professor of community medicine at Christian Medical College, Vellore. “There is a risk, but life has to go on — and you can’t go on without schools.”
Online education remains a privilege in India, where only one in four children have access to the internet and digital devices, according to UNICEF. The virtual classroom has deepened existing inequities, marking the haves from the have-nots, said Shavati Sharma Kukreja of Central Square Foundation, an education non-profit.
“While kids with access to smartphones and laptops have continued their learning with minimal disruption, those less privileged have effectively lost over a year of education,” she said.
In Uttar Pradesh state, where school reopens for first to fifth graders on Wednesday after older students were allowed last month, six-year-old Kartik Sharma was excited to wear his new school uniform. His father, Prakash Sharma, said he was “satisfied” with the virus protocols the school has in place.
“The arrangements the school has made are top class,” he said.
Not all are as confident. Toshi Kishore Srivastava said she would wait before sending her son back to first grade.
“The doctors are predicting the third wave, and in this scenario sending children to schools could prove detrimental,” she said.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of early Wednesday morning, more than 217.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at 4.5 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, schools across Taiwan have reopened for the academic year as the island’s largest COVID-19 outbreak subsides. Schools on the island shut down in May and many switched online in the face of the island’s largest outbreak, which has since passed 15,000 cases. Taiwan is now reporting new COVID-19 cases in the single digits.
In Africa, Nigeria is prioritizing the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the official heading the country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign said when asked whether the Sinopharm shot would be used in the country.
In Europe, the Italian government has vowed to crack down on demonstrators threatening to block train tracks as a rule requiring COVID-19 tests or vaccines takes effect for long-distance domestic travel.
Starting Wednesday, passengers on domestic flights, trains travelling between regions and some ferries must show a so-called “Green Pass” certifying that they’ve had at least one dose of vaccine, tested negative in the past 48 hours or recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months. Local buses, trams and subways are exempt from the rule, which was announced weeks ago.
In France, meanwhile, health workers started administering booster shots of COVID-19 vaccine to people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions to shore up their vaccine protection, as the highly contagious delta variant is spreading in the country.
People can get the shot on condition a minimum six-month period has passed since they got fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab can get a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna at least four weeks after they first got vaccinated.
In the Middle East, Palestinian health authorities are launching a vaccination drive for students in the Gaza Strip ages 16-18 as the territory contends with a third wave of coronavirus infections. Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank began a similar drive on Tuesday.
In the Americas, Brazil recorded 24,589 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 839 deaths from COVID-19, the Health Ministry said.
In the U.S., Idaho Gov. Brad Little said he was reactivating the National Guard and directing up to 370 additional people to help hospitals as they were overwhelmed with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET