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LETTER | Make schools safe first before reopening classes

LETTER | Malaysia has been closing its schools for far too long, and it needs to reopen them as soon as possible to minimise the effect of a lost generation.

Before reopening, schools need to be a safe ecosystem for children to learn and play without the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak.

It must be made mandatory that teachers and students are vaccinated before attending the physical class sessions.

Those who fail to comply without valid reason should not be tolerated and should be prohibited from attending school.

Many experts and organisations have advocated vaccination for teachers. Recently, we can also see an online petition for vaccinations among children 12 to 17 years old.

In light of this, the Education Ministry and Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force’s (CITF) have been working side by side to ensure that teachers and support staff at educational institutions are vaccinated.

Form 5 students were also put in line to receive vaccine jabs before school starts, while students between the ages of 12 and 17 are expected to be included in the fifth phase of the immunisation programme.

Despite this, 396 teachers had recently been reported in Johor to have rejected the vaccine due to doubts about the vaccine while 450 teachers in Selangor also rejected it.

It is more worrisome when a few days ago, several students had lodged a police report for their right to refuse vaccines.

These actions had demonstrated a lack of comprehension concerning the effect of an unsafe school ecosystem.

First of all, let's take a look at the situation of schools earlier this year. According to the former health minister Adham Baba, 83 Covid-19 clusters involving the education sector had been recorded this year till April 20.

A total of 4,868 cases of infection were recorded in those clusters.

These clusters could start from a teacher and spread to another teacher, or a student to one of his classmates.

Being the largest gathering of unvaccinated population, schools can become a petri dish for sporadic infections. That means, at schools, fully vaccinated teachers can still infect the students.

We used to believe that children are less susceptible to the Covid-19. Not anymore, with the rise of the Delta variant.

Individuals who are unvaccinated are more susceptible to contracting the Delta variant.

Even if the children are asymptomatic, they risk getting long-term effects of Covid-19 (long Covid-19) symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, insomnia, depression and anxiety.

These symptoms are not as rare as we would like it to be. A study by the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics found that 9.8 percent of two- to 11-years-olds and 13 percent of 12- to 16-years-old tested positive for Covid-19 five weeks later.

After 12 weeks, the rates are 7.4 percent for the younger group and 8.2 percent for the older group.

The impact of Covid-19 takes a turn for the worse when discharged students experienced fatigue to the extent that they could barely leave the bed to attend classes.

Some even experienced brain fog that can make thinking and studying difficult. As a result, students will start to be left behind among their peers, affecting their self-confidence.

In other cases, some student athletes who are experiencing shortness of breath also need to get an extended break to recover from the long Covid-19 effect, thus jeopardising their career plan.

Based on Adham's statement, between January last year and May 30 this year, 82,341 children had been infected.

How many of them have developed long Covid-19? What are the symptoms that they are experiencing? How does this affect their daily life?

Malaysia needs to have more in-depth discussion and research in regard to students who experienced Covid-19.

Not to forget, a total of 41 fatalities were reported this year for children under the age of 17. All things considered, it is important that teachers and students who are eligible to be vaccinated get their doses as it will ensure a safer ecosystem of learning.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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