New Delhi, July 20:

Schools in the country, mostly shut since March last year as the coronavirus pandemic spread, should be reopened in areas that have fewer coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Dr Randeep Guleria has said. “I am a proponent of opening up schools in a staggered way for districts that are seeing less virus circulation. It [reopening of schools] can be planned for places having positivity rates below 5 per cent,” Dr Guleria told India Today in an interview on Monday.

Guleria, a member of India’s Task Force on Covid-19, told India Today that these districts should explore the option of bringing children back to schools on alternate days and look for other ways of a staggered reopening. He also said that if surveillance hints at the spread of Covid-19 cases, they can immediately close schools again.

“The reason is not just a normal life for our kids, but also the importance of schooling in the overall development of a child should be looked at,” Guleria said.

The top doctor said many children in India have developed natural immunity against Covid-19 and have been exposed to the coronavirus. Schools have been shut for a long period of time and the limited access has affected children adversely, he added.

Authorities can ensure protocols such as wearing masks, social distancing and proper ventilation to reopen schools.

Guleria also pointed to the digital divide as classes are being mostly held offline and many students do not have access to an internet connection. “Covid-19 has reaffirmed the need to bridge the gaps in Internet access. The digital divide exists across borders, fields, and generations, impacting virtually every aspect of life,” he was quoted as saying.

In June, Guleria said that authorities should work aggressively on strategies so that schools can be reopened. “I personally feel that we should aggressively work on opening schools because it has really affected the young generation in terms of knowledge and especially the marginalised ones who can’t go for online classes,” Guleria was quoted.

India’s cumulative tally of Covid-19 now stands at 31,144,229 and 414,108 people have succumbed to the coronavirus disease, according to the Union ministry of health and family welfare. The number of Covid-19 cases has been coming down after a peak in April and May.