In Manipur, the immediate concern is on what steps the Government is going to take on the education front. All educational institutions have been shut since late March earlier this year with the outbreak of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in force, and pressures are there for reopening of schools and colleges.
By Salam Rajesh
The Government of India’s advisory for opening up the market and other facilities as part of Unlock 5 (Unlock 2 in the State) phase of current lockdown is being received with mixed responses across the country. In a bid to effect recovery of the falling economy and businesses, adverse impacts on farmers and the increasing number of out-of-job workers, the Government is ready to push through its agenda of ‘economy recovery’ despite the rising number of COVID-19 related cases, deaths and uncertainty on availability of vaccines.
The Manipur government has followed in the wake of the Union Government’s advisory to issue fresh notification for gradual easing in trade and commerce, and other activities including travels. The usually frequented spots like restaurants and barber shops are being included in the relaxation, with caution on reopening of educational institutions. There apparently is a half-closed eye on the rising chart of affected persons and deaths in the State.
As on Tuesday (6 October, 2020) the global COVID-19 cases figure stood at 35,075,423, with 10,36,095 deaths as reported by the John Hopkins University. Currently the United States is continuing to lead the worst case scenario (2,09,821 deaths) with India closely following on its heel. Quite ironically, US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump hit the headlines when the couple tested positive for the virus – for the simple reason that Trump has been a hardliner critic of the pandemic and had joked that the virus will not come near him. Trump had tweeted that the virus was a ‘lie’ crooked up by the Chinese to humiliate the United States. On the eve of election in early November, Trump now finds himself in the hotspot with the world laughing in his face.
In Manipur, the immediate concern is on what steps the Government is going to take on the education front. All educational institutions have been shut since late March earlier this year with the outbreak of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in force, and pressures are there for reopening of schools and colleges. The fundamental question being popped up by worried parents is on how safe is it to reopen schools at this juncture when COVID-19 related figures are still rising and district administrations continue to issue containment zone notifications. No vaccines have been approved as of date, although tests are being carried out post-haste and in most cases safety protocols are violated at random.
The United States under President Trump was one of the first nations across the globe to re-open schools as part of gradual unlocking of the total shutdown. However, all educational institutions in the US was ordered to be shut down again as hundreds of school-going children became affected with the virus. So was the case similar with Japan. On Friday (2 October, 2020) 770 students of Northumbria University in the United Kingdom tested positive for the virus, fueling debates on how safe is it for students to attend schools and colleges at this stage without vaccines.
South Korea opened primary schools with strict safety measures, and they have been affective to a certain level with best care methods. The question, again, is to what extent Government of Manipur can hope to provide safety measures for the children in case it decides to re-open schools and colleges in phase-wise manner. The onus of responsibility will lie with the Government in case school-going children get affected with the virus, and school administrations could be stone-walled by agitated guardians.
India’s overall COVID-19 related cases stood at 66,23,816 with 1,01,782 deaths, while the figure for Manipur was 12,105 on Tuesday (6 October, 2020) with 75 deaths. There is fluctuating and increasing number of containment zones declared in the central Manipur plains, as well as in the hill districts. COVID-19 related cases are more in urban Imphal, specifically in Imphal West (3598) and Imphal East (2020) districts, followed closely by Thoubal (1241) and trailed by Churachandpur (995) and Kangpokpi (791) districts up to Tuesday. In this scenario, the liability for the Government to open schools is huge, especially on the unexplained manner in which safety protocols are more or less violated in all spaces including markets, Government sponsored events, and public gatherings.
On the education front, the other concern is on the pressures on both parents and students to meet deadlines on online classes and tests. The Assam Government committed to providing smart phones to school students to enable those who cannot afford one to attend online classes. In Manipur, there is no such provision of the Government and parents are forced to either share their smart phones or to procure new ones for their children. It then gets complicated for parents who cannot afford expensive smart phones for each of their school-going children, in which case three students in a family have to share only one smart phone for their classes. This then renders the exercise meaningless as all three in different standards cannot attend online class at the same schedule. There are reports of students in rural and upland areas missing online classes due to inefficient internet connectivity.
The emergence of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that induces COVID-19, at the end of 2019 and the vast global public health and economic impacts this novel coronavirus is causing in 2020 is an unprecedented crisis disrupting all aspects of life across the globe, sparing none. The World Health Organization (WHO) had already hinted that COVID-19 may haunt the world till 2022, with mutations likely to occur till 2024. In this scenario, the State needs to look beyond local issues to keep up with national and global proceedings in tackling the crisis.
European countries such as France are already experiencing the process of a second wave of the SARS-CoV-2 hitting the country, with scientists hinting at likely mutations of the virus. This was similarly reported in China, particularly in Wuhan. The dangers are then still lurking in the corners. Unlock 2 as is being ‘permitted’ in Manipur is full of dangers, given the nature of violation of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) announced by the Government. Social distancing is hard to come by with locals usually flouting the norms.
Hospitals and COVID Care Centres in the State are dismal pictures of safety norms, even as social media postings are indicating absolute violations of SOP. COVID Care Centres are becoming health hazards for inmates with unsystematic disposals of PPEs, face masks, plastics and other wastes. The State Government needs to roll up its sleeves before deciding on to reopen educational institutions unless it can effectively ensure a fool-proof system to avoid contamination and spread of the disease in schools and colleges.
(The writer is a media professional and an environmental activist. He can be reached at [email protected])