The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund on Monday said that teachers should be administered the coronavirus vaccines on priority to ensure schools stay open through the pandemic, AFP reported.

“[It] is vital that classroom-based learning continues uninterrupted,” the agencies said in a statement, according to AFP. They urged countries to offer teachers and other school staff the “Covid-19 vaccine as part of target population groups in national vaccination plans”. The World Health Organization also urged countries to inoculate children above 12 years of age with comorbidities.

Other measures deemed essential for the functioning of schools included better ventilation in classrooms, smaller class sizes, physical distancing and regular Covid-19 testing for staff and students.

WHO Director for Europe Hans Kluge said the pandemic has caused the “most catastrophic disruption to education in history”. Ensuring uninterrupted learning “is of paramount importance for children’s education, mental health and social skills, for schools to help equip our children to be happy and productive members of society”, Kluge added.

In June, another joint statement from the two UN agencies had said that the closure of schools across the world impacted the physical and mental health of children. “While online education can guarantee some continuity of learning for some children, these services are no substitute for in-person attendance,” it had said.

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Schools in India

In India too, the central government has asked states to vaccinate all school teachers on priority before September 5.

Most schools in India have been closed since March 2020. Schools in several states are slated to open this week, while some have been functioning for a few weeks now.

Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Meghalaya reopened schools for students of Classes 9-12 on Monday, the Hindustan Times reported. In most states, only 50% the class strength will be allowed to physically attend. States have also introduced compulsory thermal screening and staggered schedules to reduce risks.

Rajasthan has reopened schools for all classes, while Telangana and Tripura will start some classes from September 1 and Gujarat will restart classes 6-8 from September 2. Karnataka reopened school for classes 9 to 12 from August 23 in districts with less than 2% positivity rate.

Himachal Pradesh, which had reopened schools on August 2, had to reverse its decision within 10 days after several students tested positive for Covid-19. But on Monday, the Himachal Pradesh Independent School Association asked the government to allow reopening of schools, Tribune India reported.

India on Monday recorded 42,909 new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the country’s total cases to 3,27,37,939 since the pandemic broke out in January last year. The toll rose by 380 to 4,38,210.