Hundreds of children caught COVID-19 when schools reopened in Indonesia. What can we learn from that?

11-Oct-2021 Intellasia | ABC | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Baryanti’s son had been back in the classroom for less than a week when she received a call: He had tested positive for COVID-19.

Her son, Yovi Aulia Dwi Putra, was one of a handful of students to contract the virus from a classmate at their local public school, four days after face-to-face learning resumed in Indonesia in late September.

Most schools in Indonesia reopened for face-to-face learning last month.(Reuters: Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana)

Most schools in Indonesia reopened for face-to-face learning last month.(Reuters: Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana)

Ms Baryanti who always got a kiss on the cheek from her son after school was also infected. They are both now in isolation.

“COVID-19 is scary indeed, when I read the news,” she said.

“But my son told me that he doesn’t feel any heavy symptoms like cough or breathing difficulties.

“I can only pray this transmission won’t happen again.”

The thought of COVID-19 spreading in schools was also a point of some anxiety for Made Tasya Nuarta.

Ms Nuarta said she was in a state of panic when she, her husband and their three children were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 back in May.

Although she and her husband are now recovered and fully vaccinated, their children are all under the age of 12 and ineligible for the vaccine.

“I would only feel safe after they are vaccinated,” she said.

“And I’m worried when I look at the clusters in schools. Knock on wood, but if the school clusters keep growing until it reached its peak like Delta last time, what will happen to our children?”

The Indonesian Pediatric Society’s president, Dr Aman Pulungan, said last month that more than 1,800 children in Indonesia had died because of COVID-19.

Indeed, the country’s COVID-9 task force reported that, up to August 8, there were 1,833 deaths in children aged between six and 18 years of age, and 531 in children under five years.

School clusters start appearing

The Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology has previously revealed that up to September 22, 1,296 out of 46,580 schools where face-to-face learning restarted had reported transmission of COVID-19.

Although hundreds of students in several provinces in Indonesia were reportedly infected with COVID-19 after school reopened on September 11, the ministry only considers 13 schools in Java and Sumatra to be clusters.

The ministry’s director-general said the schools have since “carried out proper testing, tracing and treatment”.

Despite Ms Baryanti’s son being infected at school, she said she would still send him back when they had finished isolation.

She said all the parents at the school had agreed to resume face-to-face learning, as most of them had faced difficulties with learning from home.

“The subjects are hard enough to understand,” she said.

On top of that, she said, her working hours had been reduced since the pandemic began, meaning she could not afford to buy daily internet data for her son’s schooling.

Dilemmas of online learning

More than 60 million Indonesian students have been affected by school closures throughout the pandemic, according to a report released in September by Unicef and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Access to reliable internet has become a major concern for 57.3 per cent of Indonesian households with children, according to a survey conducted in the last quarter of 2020.

Face-to-face learning in that nation’s schools has not been happening every day, but rather two or three times a week, with students switching between the classroom and online learning.

Eka Ilham a high school teacher in Bima Regency, West Nusa Tenggara said online learning was not possible for everyone.

“Although the ministry of education and culture provides internet data quotas, not all students have a smartphone,” Ilham told the ABC.

Most of the parents at his school were farmers who have to work in fields, so they could not stay at home to help their children study.

Ilham was also concerned that health protocols in schools had not been not strictly enforced.

“In elementary, middle and high schools here, the health protocols are lax, [I know this] because I also have children who are still in elementary school,” he said.

However, that was not the case for everyone.

In Jakarta, Debbie Kumara, a teacher and administrative coordinator, said almost 80 per cent of parents at her school preferred online learning.

Lessons for Australian schools

Ms Kumara who is still struggling with long COVID said parents, students and the school must be fully prepared to return to face-to-face learning methods.

“The most important thing in my opinion is the preparation of children’s mindset to go back to school in a different situation after the pandemic,” she said.

“Changing the mindset and paradigm is not easy. It is better for children not only to know that they are going back to school, but also to be educated on why they have to follow the new rules.”

This April, Indonesia’s education ministry released a set of guidelines for schools resuming face-to-face learning.

The ministry implemented a 1.5 metre social-distancing rule and has limited the number of students per classroom.

Class capacity differs across education levels, however, with a maximum of 18 students per class for most elementary to senior high school levels, and a maximum of five students in early childhood classrooms.

If there’s an outbreak, the school’s head teacher must report it to the local authorities, and then take students or staff to healthcare facilities to be treated or quarantined.

Dr Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University, said these health protocols along with the requirement that schools should not reopen until the COVID-19 positivity rate is under 5 per cent in Indonesia were “appropriate”.

Air circulation systems and health measures such as hand-washing, social distancing, mask wearing and limiting movement were also important, Dr Budiman added.

“The vaccination rate also has to be pushed. All the adults [who] live in the same house [as the students] and the school areas should be vaccinated, as this step will further reduce the risk of transmission.”

Schools in Australia have had “relatively similar” measures in place as the ones in Indonesia, Dr Dicky said.

However, he said, face masks needed to be more of a focus in Australian schools.

“At the start of the pandemic, we can see that the mask-wearing protocols for students weren’t very strict [in Australia],” he said.

“Because of the Delta variant and other potential new variants, the mask-wearing regulation has to be tightened and social-distancing should be compulsory.

“Class capacity has to be considered and many activities should take place outdoors.”

Dr Budiman said Indonesia could learn from Australia in terms of its consistent testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine system.

“Their absolute positivity rate and the basic reproduction numbers are solid because they come from qualified sources and the strong quantity of testing-tracing-isolating,” he said.

Concerns over long COVID in children

Dr Maria Galuh Kamenyangan Sari a pediatrician from Sebelas Maret University Hospital in Central Java said that, while she found cases of suspected long COVID in children, they were still being investigated.

“Symptoms [of the complaint] in children are more of respiratory problems, such as coughs, runny noses, pneumonia as well as diarrhoea that doesn’t go away after [testing] negative for COVID,” Dr Galuh told the ABC.

In addition to the vaccination requirement for those aged over 12 to return to school, Dr Galuh said comorbidities in children must also be considered as students head back to the classroom.

“Comorbidities in children that differ from adults include malnutrition, obesity, malignancy, tuberculosis, asthma, cerebral palsy and neurological [disorders], as well as congenital heart disease,” she said.

She said parents must inform the school if their child has any health conditions that their teachers should be aware of.

As for children who are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Dr Galuh suggested they should at least get jabbed with the flu vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine, which she said would protect the organs where symptoms of COVID-19 are often found.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-09/covid-clusters-indonesian-schools-classroom-students-delta/100502258

 

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