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COVID-19: WHO releases fresh guidelines for school reopening

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Schools should only close as a last resort while research is underway into whether the new coronavirus variants affect children differently, the World Health Organisation said Wednesday.

The debate on shutting schools during the Covid-19 pandemic has been revived by the emergence of more contagious virus mutations.

The WHO said research had begun looking at the factors that may put children at risk, the long-term health effects on those infected, and the impact of new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 disease.

“The arrival in late 2020 of new more transmissible variants of SARS-CoV-2 requires additional analysis by sex and age to measure how and if the new variants impact children differently,” it said.

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“If it is found that children are more affected, public health social measures may need to be adapted.”

Here is a summary of the WHO’s special focus on Covid-19’s impact on children and schools, issued Wednesday:

– WHO’s conclusions –

– “School closure should be implemented as a last resort, be temporary and only at a local level in areas with intense transmission.”

– Authorities should check for new guidance, “particularly with respect to the appearance of new and possibly more transmissible variants”.

– In low-transmission areas, schools are unlikely to drive infection; in areas with the widespread transmission, protective measures in schools are essential.

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– Schools need outbreak prevention and management plans, including ventilation, hand and surface cleaning, communication with parents, mask use, and physical distancing.

– Children aged 12 and older “should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults”. Physical distancing can be achieved by limiting class sizes, alternating shifts, and limiting the mixing of classes.

– Stronger prevention measures might be necessary for secondary schools, and adolescents should limit their exposure risk outside school.

– Teachers “are more likely to be infected” outside schools than inside.

– During school closures, remote learning should be set up, regular school services such as meals and immunization should be maintained, while mental health support should be enhanced.

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– Data and 2020 findings –

– Under-18s represent 29 percent of the global population but only eight percent of reported cases last year.

– They are more likely to have a mild or asymptomatic infection and under-20s accounted for only 0.2 percent of Covid-19 deaths.

– Studies suggest that among children, under-10s are less susceptible and less infectious. Adolescents aged 16-18 transmit the virus as often as adults.

– “The longer vulnerable children are out of school, the less likely they are to return,” said the WHO.

– School closures have a negative impact on children besides their education, including their physical and mental health.

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