… PDP questions running schools in containment mode 

Nima | Gelephu

Within three days after Sarpang Central School reported close to 40 Covid-19 cases among its students, another school in the dzongkhag reported more than 70 students cases leading some to question the safety of students.

Kuendrup Higher Secondary School in Gelephu in the past two days reported 73 cases, one of the highest cases from the red clusters in Sarpang dzongkhag.

According to the school administration, boarder students with the help of staff were preparing for the upcoming board examination within the campus after the school decided to continue academic sessions during winter vacation.

The vacation for schools started on December 18. Class X and XII students were to return on January 14 and 15. The school was involved in exam preparations and conducting mock examinations until the school was hit with the Covid-19 on Thursday.

Principal Karma Rigzin said there was no movement in and out of the school after the lockdown (Blackout period) was imposed on January 14. Only the movement for students requiring medical attention was facilitated.

“Thromde had planned to start the school in containment mode by January 31. Only then the school would be functioning in actual containment mode. Boarder students were kept in the school, as they were not sent on winter vacation,” he said.

He added that the number of students testing positive was alarming and there were disruptions in the school, mentally.

“We are not worried much when it comes to academics. We are ready for the exam because when government schools were closed for vacation we kept our academic session running. We knew such a situation might occur,” said Karma Rigzin.

Officials from the dzongkhag education sector said boarder students were already on the campus since the winter vacation started in December. They were preparing for the examination and were planning to admit day scholars as boarders.

“There was no containment mode as such. The school continued coaching students during the winter vacation.  The students had to return on January 14 and it was difficult to get quarantine for travels,” said officials.

The board examinations are scheduled for the next month, and the official added that the schools are planning for containment mode but have to wait for the final directives from the government.

The dzongkhag has planned mandatory quarantine for students and to test them before joining school if the schools are to resume in containment mode.

Only then containment mode would begin. The school will be completely sealed. But, these plans are also on halt, according to the officials.

Kuendrup HSS and Sarpang Central School were hit with community outbreaks since the lockdown in Sarpang. Sarpang CS reported 74 positive cases to date. Both schools have hostel facilities.

Karma Rigzin said the students who tested positive were isolated on the campus, as the dzongkhag lacked space to isolate a large number of cases.

“We also have staff to manage the students within the campus. We need to have strong protocols. Omicron is milder compared to other variants,” he said.

PDP raise concerns

Following the detection of positive cases from Kuendrup HSS, the People’s Democratic Party called upon the government to do away with the idea of containment centres in view of the dangers of outbreaks in confined spaces.

“The recklessness with which the government went ahead with containment centres have now jeopardised the physical and mental well-being of the students, teachers, and staff at the Kuendrup High School,” stated the party’s press release.

With the government still considering the conversion of schools into containment centres, PDP has asked the government to immediately ensure that infections do not spread to other students and teachers in Kuendrup School, and ensure that other schools also operate as containment mode are safe from a virus outbreak.

The party also urged the government to assure parents and students how a repeat would be prevented in other schools, put in place robust counselling services to mitigate any ill effects and stop converting schools into containment centres, among others.

Five staff including a family member and 68 students tested positive for Covid-19 in Kuendrup HSS. A total of 81 new cases were reported from Sarpang yesterday: three were from the community, 77 contact cases, and one imported case.