Bangladesh extends school shutdown over second COVID-19 wave

Daily infections have shown a rising trend this month, with 1,845 new cases and 13 deaths reported on Thursday [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Bangladesh has extended its closure of schools and educational institutions, which were last open in March, until December 19 amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections during the coming Bangladeshi winter, the education ministry said on Thursday.

Experts said the South Asian country, with patchy healthcare facilities, could face another surge in infections, having so far confirmed 427,198 cases and 6,140 deaths from COVID-19.

The government closed schools and educational institutions on March 17 and has extended the closure several times, most recently until November 15.

“The decision has been taken considering the second wave … We can’t play with the lives of our children,” said a senior official of the education ministry, who declined to be named.

The government, however, has lifted most other restrictions.

Daily infections have shown a rising trend this month, with 1,845 new cases and 13 deaths reported on Thursday.

“The coronavirus situation could worsen further in the winter when viral and bacterial diseases increase,” said virologist Nazrul Islam, a member of the national technical advisory committee to tackle COVID-19.

“People are eager for the vaccine, but nobody is caring about the health rules like wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing,” Islam said.

The government is broadcasting lessons on television for school students, and universities are conducting online classes. Most children in Bangladesh do not have access to the internet.

Rights groups fear many are placed at risk by not returning to school, and said many children have been forced to work to help their families. Some girls have been forced into marriage to make up for their parents’ lost income.

“We fear the dropout rates could be 40 percent or even more,” said Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education.

“My daughter is in 8th grade but I will never be able to send her back to school,” said garment worker Maksuda Begum, who was laid off from her job in April, adding that her family had been surviving on charity.

“I dreamed of a better life for my daughter but my dream will remain a dream,” she said, fighting back tears.