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The dangers of reopening schools during COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh, by Nevyn P. Haque

Coronavirus has caused many countries around the world to enforce lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus. This means all schools and educational institutions have been closed, and online classes have taken place to resume studies. My country is not an exception. Countries like France have decided to reopen schools because they have the resources and infrastructure needed to minimize the spread. But, in developing countries like Bangladesh, where I live, it will be difficult as we don't have the resources, infrastructure or workforce needed to stop the spread. There are many dangers of reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bangladesh has been under lockdown for two months. The Bangladeshi government declared on May 28 that schools will reopen after June 15, 2020. The holidays for colleges have been from 14th May to 18th June including summer vacation. Schools have been closed since March 18th, 2020. Eid holidays began on 21st May.

Before the lockdown, in my school, I had started to wear masks in February. My classmates would make fun of me for wearing a mask, and I got the nickname 'Corona'. The teachers would ask me what the point of wearing a mask was if the virus was not in Bangladesh at the time. Lifebuoy brand ambassadors came to my school, and distributed small soap sachets and talked about what to do during the pandemic and how to minimize the spread. But, many students didn’t follow the rules. Some students would sneeze into their hands or the air if they did not have a tissue. The school staff would keep bar soaps, and they would keep the liquid handwash in the library.

I read the newspaper, and I watch the news daily. The government opened shopping malls for Eid, and some people shopped without proper protection and physical distancing. People tried to go to their villages to spend Eid with their families via launches, private cars and trucks. These people scrambled into vehicles, and did not maintain six feet of distance. These are the things that will cause the virus to spread speedily.

All school staff and faculty need to be trained so they know the necessary precautions. School assemblies will likely worsen the spread. Holding assemblies in classrooms will have the same effect, and certain students and teachers and school staff will be more vulnerable to the virus. The area allotted to most classrooms doesn’t allow for a separate seat for each student. When the students go to the cafeteria, they scramble to get snacks and drinks. Teachers roam around the area to stop any fights that may occur between students. The question is, will the teachers maintain the rules and regulations of social distancing? Studies have shown that money can spread germs. When we give school staff money for snacks and drinks, we might be unknowingly spreading the virus. Additionally, when parents come to pick up the students, they crowd the school gates. They may not maintain social distancing as they are in a hurry. Some parents may suffer from chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular and heart disease etc. These patients are more vulnerable to contracting the virus. Students, when the school day ends, have to wait a while to be picked up. They will have to remain in the playground, a very crowded area, to be picked up.

Students will have a hard time trying to use pens, pencils, and erasers while wearing gloves. As I have tested at home, stationeries will slip from our hands. Some students may suffer from a latex allergy, which can be caused by latex gloves. It is not feasible for all students to disinfect the desks and benches every period. The teachers cannot use disinfectants to clean every student's books and copies every time they check them. The same goes for us. It will be a challenge for teachers and students alike. Wearing masks is a smart precaution. These issues are now commonly found in the urban cities. There are worse issues found in rural Bangladesh.

If the schools reopen there, social distancing will be a huge challenge. Many schools in rural areas have been taking classes outside in the playground. Many schools in rural areas do not have the money to buy single benches for all students. Many impoverished children and teens do not have the money to buy gloves, masks and hand sanitizers as these products' prices have risen drastically. Teachers in schools, especially in rural areas, are not getting their salary due to schools being closed. The government must aid the struggling sector and ensure minimum wages for all.

We must all join our hands together (metaphorically speaking) to defeat this virus. COVID-19 has no certain cure at the moment. It has forced everyone to stay home, and that is the only way we can avoid being infected. The question remains, whether reopening schools is a good choice when the WHO has declared that “we are still in the middle of the first wave”. There has been a surge in cases in South Korea and in France since they reopened schools. Parents, schools and the government must come together to ensure that students can make the best out of this period. The government needs to know the necessary precautions required to avoid students being infected, and schools and parents need to stay informed with the help of legitimate and reliable news publications.

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