The government of Bangladesh has decided to extend the closure of schools, as COVID-19 cases surge, mostly because of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant.
The school closure initially was just for two weeks, until February 6. But on Wednesday, Minister of Education Dipu Moni said it would be extended by two more weeks.
The announcement was met with disappointment by some teachers and experts. At a school in the Moghbazar area of the capital, Dhaka, teachers were frustrated over having to restart online classes for their 500 students.
“Students just don’t get the lessons the same way online as in the classroom. It’s very important to use teaching materials to help them understand clearly,” Mizanur Rahman, a teacher at Provati Bidya Niketon, told The Associated Press news agency.
He said the measure was affecting students in other ways, too.
“Students come to school and play with their mates. It develops their minds and increases knowledge,” he said.
‘A little contradictory’
The school closures have raised eyebrows at a time when Bangladesh is still allowing business events, including a month-long trade fair that began in January and has been visited by thousands of people.
An annual, month-long book fair is likely to open sometime in February in Dhaka as well, drawing thousands more visitors.
Experts say the lack of consistency is illogical and undermines pandemic precautions.
“Educational institutions are rather more essential than recreation centres or trade fairs,” argued Liaquat Ali, a biomedical scientist and adviser to the Dhaka-based Pothikrit Institute of Health Studies, saying the move was “a little contradictory”.
Bangladesh has reported more than 1.8 million COVID-19 cases and some 28,000 deaths since the pandemic started.
The country has recently has seen record numbers of new infections, with new known cases soaring to more than 200,000 in January from less than 9,000 in December, according to the Health Ministry data. Deaths have more than tripled, to 322 last month from 92 in December.
“Only 35 percent have been vaccinated twice. So, there are many unprotected groups of people, and we must be cautious about jumping to the conclusion that there will be no catastrophe,” Ali said.