COVID-19: Health Experts Kick against Reopening of Schools Now

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By Martins Ifijeh

Health experts have kicked against federal government’s plan to reopen schools, saying the decision was ill-timed and capable of slowing down the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria.

Speaking to THISDAY Thursday, the President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, said the COVID-19 infection rate was still climbing, and that it would be difficult for children to strictly adhere to physical distancing and other protocols put in place for the prevention of the virus.

He said: “We know government cannot shut down schools for too long, so it is understandable it is mulling the idea of resuming through a plan to stagger the time between morning and afternoon classes, but the question we must ask the Ministry of Education is when it is planning to implement this.

“Opening schools now will be a mistake and will be dangerous for our fight against COVID-19 because infection rates are still climbing. We should open in a manner that is safe. In other climes where infection rates are coming down, their governments are reopening schools first with the postgraduate students resuming.

“If you see what is happening in New York even till now, you will understand we need to thread carefully. In New York, schools have not reopened yet, and when they do, they intend to start with the most senior postgraduate students and then ensure social distancing protocols.”

He recommended that government should wait until September before reopening schools, emphasizing that this must be done when infection rates were going down, and not with its present rate of spread.

Ohuabunwa said: “We should implement the school reopening at a time when we have contained the virus because children are the most difficult set of people to ask to maintain social distance, hygiene, and other protocols. And we have seen that this disease affects children as well, with even more deadly variances as seen in the United States and Europe. Any attempt to open schools too soon will create a lot more havoc for Nigeria,” he warned.

In the same vein, the Immediate past National Chairman, Association of Community Pharmacist of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr Albert Kelong Alkali, said government must not jump the gun because it wants children to gain lost grounds, adding that it must first ensure teachers and communities were adequately trained on health protocols, coupled with obvious reduction of COVID-19 cases before reopening.

He said: “We must be careful because children are not like adults. Many adults are not even adhering to physical distancing not to mention children. Government can start with the senior students, say by July, and then in September ask the younger pupils or students to resume.

“What government should do first is embark on massive awareness through the National Orientation Agency (NOA), radio and community sensitisation. Then, it should train teachers on physical distancing, hand hygiene and other protocols. After all these are done, it can ask senior students who are more matured to resume first.

“Nobody would want to play with our children because they are too young to follow these health protocols. Their health should matter most before any other thing. Opening schools in June will be disastrous. July should look more like it after all necessary things have been done by the government,” he said.