Omicron and Schools: Most parents want district authorities to shut schools only when there are multiple cases in their district or vicinity
- ● Currently there are over 50 such districts across India that either have a Omicron case or are in the 25 kilometer vicinity of another district with Omicron case
- ● Only 3 in 10 parents want authorities to wait till a community (non-travel) Omicron case is found in their district or vicinity to shut schools
December 16, 2021, New Delhi: Schools in most states of India resumed in-person classes in August-September 2021 after daily COVID cases started to decline post the 2nd wave of the pandemic. However, once again, the country is on alert after reporting over 75 cases of the more transmissible Omicron variant of COVID within a matter of 2 weeks with several Omicron cases being those individuals who have no travel history indicating that community spread of Omicron has begun. The variant, which has scientists and epidemiologists from around the world raise red flags, was categorised as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation in late-November and has been detected in over 80 countries with all major nations included. The latest data suggests that the variant has between 30-50 mutations, with likely a 500% transmission advantage over the base or alpha variants of COVID. The Union Health Ministry has alerted all states and Union Territories to be on high alert and to increase testing and monitoring with special guidelines being implemented for screening and testing of international passengers. This leaves the use of mask and social distancing as the only and absolute preventative measure. The WHO has also asked countries to take preventative measures like hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation and wearing well-fitted masks. Amongst all of this, the big question in the mind of many parents is whether it is still safe to send their children to school and at what point should schools shut.
The 2nd wave of COVID in India saw many children getting infected with the coronavirus. There is evidence to show that the variants of SARS CoV-2 are highly infectious among children. For instance, in May this year, 8,000 children tested positive in a district in Maharashtra. Reportedly, the 1st wave saw 4% of the infected population were children. This share increased to about 10-20% in the 2nd wave. Meanwhile, the Union Health Ministry has decided to take a careful approach in initiating the COVID-19 vaccination among children who are the only group left for inoculation. The government’s top advisory panel has not yet arrived at a consensus on whether or not to recommend existing vaccines for inoculating children. However, vaccine efficacy reports against Omicron are not encouraging with most 2-dose vaccines losing their efficacy thereby relying on the need for a 3rd vaccine dose to provide protection. In India, as children are not vaccinated and with 2 dose Covishield-Astrazeneca efficacy reported to be low against Omicron, the virus spreading via schools and children could easily reach others in the family and impact them.
The Ministry in a recent press conference also stated that there is no need to incite panic, and that states and UTs have been advised to be on high alert and to increase testing and monitoring with special guidelines being implemented for screening and testing of international passengers coming from at-risk countries as well as vande bharat flights. After a significant decline in daily COVID cases to below 10,000-mark for over 2 weeks, cases of Omicron have been steadily rising, inciting worries among Indian parents about what will be the approach of states and districts administrators in regard to functioning of in-person schools. LocalCircles has been active over the years, especially during the COVID pandemic in ensuring that the collective opinion of parents and grandparents of school children reaches the Government on various school issues, including reopening and closure of educational institutions. After parents raised the demand to reopen schools in February this year and again in August, LocalCircles escalated the same to Central and State Governments leading to reopening in many states. The same was with the case in recommending school closures in late-March 2021 as parents feedback indicated concerns about the 2nd wave.
Given the current situation with Omicron, LocalCircles has conducted another survey to understand the majority of parents’ opinion on what approach should their district administration take in regard to the functioning of in-person schools at the time of the steadily spreading Omicron virus while international Vande Bharat flights are still operational. The survey received 9,694 responses from parents residing in 332 districts of India. 61% of the participants were men while 39% were women. 45% of respondents were from tier 1 districts, 31% from tier 2 and 24% were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts.
Majority of parents want their district administration to shut schools if multiple Omicron cases are found in their district or in 25 km vicinity
The first question in the survey asked parents, “In light of Omicron variant being identified in India and international Vande Bharat flight still operational, what should be approach followed by district administrations for the functioning of in-person schools?” In response, 38% said “Shut in-person schools if there are multiple Omicron cases in the district or nearby districts (within 25 km radius)”, and 12% said “Shut in-person schools if there is even a single Omicron case in the district and nearby districts”. There were also 21% of citizens who said “Shut in-person schools if there is even a single (non-travel history) Omicron cases in the district or nearby districts”, and 9% said “Shut in-person schools if there is even a single (non-travel history) Omicron case in the district or nearby districts”. 18% of citizens said “Shut in-person schools already as India has Omicron cases which are likely to rise”, and 12% did not have an opinion. The findings indicate that the majority of parents want their district administration to shut schools if multiple Omicron cases are found in their district or in 25 km vicinity. This question in the survey received 9,694 responses.
With limited outdoor air ventilation in most classrooms and no access to air purifiers amid high transmissible Omicron propagating in the country, many parents are concerned that once it is in the community in their district, it will likely spread very rapidly among children in school.
Omicron and Schools: Most parents want authorities to refrain from shutting schools till Omicron comes to their district or vicinity
If responses given by parents are evaluated in the order of priority, the survey finds that 49% of parents want authorities to “Shut in-person school if there are multiple Omicron cases in the district or vicinity”. Then there are 21% of parents want “Shut in-person school if there is a single Omicron case in the district or vicinity”, and 18% want “Shut in-person school if India has Omicron cases”. 12% couldn’t say. This means that most parents want authorities to refrain from shutting schools till Omicron comes to their district or vicinity. When LocalCircles analysed the latest Omicron data in India, it appears that 50 districts may fall in this category with either an Omicron case or situated within the 25-kilometer distance of another district which has a case.
Omicron and Schools: Only 30% parents want authorities to wait to shut schools till a community (non-travel) Omicron case is found in their district or vicinity
If the data is further analysed, it indicates that 40% of parents want authorities to “Shut in-person schools if any type of Omicron cases is identified in district or vicinity”, 30% said “Shut in-person schools only if community Omicron cases (non-travel) are found in the district or vicinity”, and 18% said “Shut in-person school if India has Omicron cases”. 12% couldn’t say. This means that only 30% of parents want authorities to refrain from shutting schools till a community (non-travel) Omicron case is found in their district or vicinity.
“With many parents realising that Omicron could again shut in-person schools for several months, a high percentage of parents are keen that in-person learning is maximised till it comes to their district”, said Sachin Taparia, Founder, LocalCircles “With 5X more transmissibility of Omicron, lack of outdoor air ventilation in most classes, the risk of spread in schools is real and hence the school and district authorities must keep a close watch on state of affairs and take timely decisions”, continued Taparia.
In summary, the majority of parents studied in the survey want their district administration to shut schools if multiple Omicron cases are found in their district or in the 25-kilometer vicinity of their district. Further evaluation of the responses given by parents indicates that most parents want authorities to refrain from shutting schools till Omicron comes to their district or vicinity, whereas, only 30% of parents want authorities to wait till a community (non-travel) Omicron case is found in their district or vicinity. Knowing that Omicron is highly transmissible, most parents want their district administration to take swift action and shut schools once multiple cases of Omicron are identified in the district. Currently over 50 districts in India out of the 735 districts may fall in this category.
LocalCircles will share the findings of this survey with key stakeholders in the Central Government and Chief Secretaries of all states so inputs of parents can be considered as they may soon need to finalise policies for school functioning as Omicron cases rise across India.
The survey received 9,694 responses from parents residing in 332 districts of India. 61% of the participants were men while 39% were women. 45% of respondents were from tier 1 districts, 31% from tier 2 and 24% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform and all participants were validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.
LocalCircles, India’s leading Community Social Media platform enables citizens and small businesses to escalate issues for policy and enforcement interventions and enables Government to make policies that are citizen and small business centric. LocalCircles is also India’s # 1 pollster on issues of governance, public and consumer interest. More about LocalCircles can be found on https://www.localcircles.com
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