New Delhi: A graded action plan drafted after the Delta wave that had to be tweaked for Omicron, risks associated with unvaccinated children, and frequent arrivals from states witnessing a Covid-19 surge — broadly speaking, these are the reasons behind Delhi’s delayed decision to reopen schools, said senior officials.
The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) Friday allowed classes 9 and above in the capital’s schools to resume physical lessons from 7 February, and classes below 9 to resume from 14 February.
“The decision required going against a graded action plan for Covid-19 management notified by the government, so it could not be done without experts’ intervention — because who would have taken the risk if anything went wrong? The DDMA did not want to take chances,” said a senior government official privy to the details of Friday’s DDMA meeting.
Regular classes in Delhi’s schools have been suspended since 28 December in view of the Omicron-driven third wave of the pandemic.
Since March 2020, when Covid cases began to spread in India, schools in Delhi have remained fully suspended for around 94 weeks, according to government records. So far, there have been at least eight instances of the government resuming some classes and then suspending them again, including two instances when it did so because of severe air pollution towards the end of 2021.
Delhi has a graded action plan for Covid management that was notified by the DDMA in July 2021 following the previous wave triggered by the Delta variant — which had left the healthcare system overburdened and caused a large number of deaths.
The plan asks for suspension of schools if Delhi records a positivity rate of 0.5 per cent for two consecutive days, or if new cases per day exceed 1,500 on average over a week, or if there are 500 oxygen beds occupied on average over a seven-day period.
Currently, government records showed, the positivity rate in Delhi is hovering at around 5 per cent, and more than 2,200 cases per day have surfaced over the past week — which essentially qualifies Delhi for suspension of schools under the graded action plan at this point, unless exceptions are made, said the official.
“The plan was drafted in view of the Delta wave, in which a large number of cases were more severe, as against the ongoing Omicron wave in which cases were relatively mild,” said another senior official, adding that as the government didn’t get time to draft a separate plan for Omicron, the existing plan had to be tweaked if schools were to be re-opened
The official said, “It could not be done just like that because children aged below 15 are not yet eligible for vaccination. There are risks involved. Delhi also witnesses a large number of arrivals from several states that are currently witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases. So, the expert committee’s intervention in terms of specific recommendations was a must.”
The DDMA is chaired by Delhi’s lieutenant governor, Anil Baijal, and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is its vice chairperson. It has a committee of experts for guidance on Covid-19 management. The committee is learnt to have highlighted in Friday’s meeting that schools should reopen as early as possible.
The DDMA-appointed committee has on board NITI Aayog (health) member Dr V.K. Paul, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director Dr Randeep Guleria and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) chief Dr Balram Bhargava as experts. They are also members of the Union government’s expert committees.
The first senior official quoted above said that the committee Friday discussed Covid trends in other states, especially the ones that have reopened their schools, before arriving at its conclusion. It also emphasised allowing only fully vaccinated teachers in classrooms.
The importance of reopening schools had been discussed in previous meetings, but a specific proposal to do so was tabled only Friday, according to the official.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)