Vatican City, – The Vatican COVID-19 Commission called on Monday for the Catholic Church and governments to increase support for women suffering from violence amid the coronavirus crisis.
In a seven-page document released March 8, International Women’s Day, the commission said that the pandemic had “increased the vulnerability of countless women across the globe.”
The text, entitled “Women in the COVID-19 Crisis: Disproportionately Affected and Protagonists of Regeneration,” said that domestic violence had risen during pandemic-related lockdowns.
The commission asked governments to provide “safe spaces and services for those facing domestic violence.”
It also encouraged the Church to “denounce direct and systemic violence against women.”
The document suggested that an effective way to do this would be for Church leaders to back an appeal by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for a domestic violence “ceasefire.”
It also said that “messages countering violence against women could be encouraged in homilies and in catechesis.”
Domestic violence incidents rose by 8.1% in the United States following lockdown orders, according to a Feb. 23 report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.
Pope Francis dedicated the month of February to prayer for women suffering from violence.
In a video released Feb. 1, he said: “It is shocking how many women are beaten, insulted, and raped … We must not look the other way.”
Pope Francis asked the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to create the Vatican COVID-19 Commission on March 20, 2020. Working with other curial departments and outside organizations, the commission seeks “to express the concern and love of the Church for the whole human family in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The body, unveiled on April 15, 2020, consists of five working groups, which focus respectively on “acting now for the future,” “looking to the future with creativity,” “communicating hope,” “seeking common dialogue and reflections,” and “supporting to care.”
A note said that the new document was “elaborated by the four different taskforces of Working Group 2,” which tackles topics related to ecology, economics, labor, healthcare, politics, communications, and security.
“While women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, they have been excluded from much of the COVID-19 decision-making in many countries, largely due to enduring underrepresentation in senior positions in key fields of medicine and politics,” the text said.
“This may have contributed to the lack of explicit attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impacts on women and girls.”
“Countries with women leaders, however, have generally fared better overall during the pandemic. These leaders approached the crisis in a similar way: they consulted early with health experts and implemented containment measures early.”
NAIROBI, – Charities in Africa slammed rich nations on Thursday for blocking efforts to waive patents for COVID-19 vaccines, saying this would prolong the pandemic for years in poorer nations and push millions across the continent deeper into poverty.
More than 40 charities, including Amnesty International and Christian Aid, said Wednesday’s move by Western nations to prevent generic or other manufacturers making more vaccines in poorer nations was “an affront on people’s right to healthcare.”
Peter Kamalingin, Oxfam International’s Africa director, said sub-Saharan Africa – 14% of the global population – had received only 0.2% of 300 million vaccine doses administered worldwide.
“Ensuring every African can get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine … is the most effective way to save lives and livelihoods, keep our children in school, reduce unemployment rates and re-open our economies,” he told a news conference.
“Without it, gains made by African countries on issues of food security, democratic governance, gender justice and women’s rights will be reversed completely.”
Richer members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) blocked a push by some 80 developing countries – led by India and South Africa – to waive its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement rules on patents.
The move sent a message that African lives were less important than those of people in rich nations, Kamalingin said.
Countries such as the United States and Britain argue that protecting intellectual property rights encourages research and innovation, and that suspending those rights would not result in a sudden surge of vaccine supply.
While Africa accounts for less than 4% of the 118 million cases and 2.6 million deaths recorded globally, health experts say a lack of testing and reliable data from many African nations means the true figures may be far higher.
The World Bank estimates that the new coronavirus crisis has already pushed 40 million people in sub-Saharan economies into extreme poverty, that is, living on less than $1.90 a day.
Africa needs equitable access to vaccines to prevent further lockdowns, job losses and school closures, said the charities, which included the Pan-African Fight Inequality Alliance and the East Africa Tax and Governance Network.
“Without the vaccine, the pandemic will be prolonged on the continent. Africa will be in a pandemic state for the next four or five years,” warned Mwanahamisi Singano, programme manager from the African Women’s Development and Communication Network.
“If we don’t have the vaccine, we are extending the pandemic phase and all the evil that we have seen come with it.”
Western nations have celebrated the COVAX facility – a World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine-sharing programme to aid developing nations – which has so far delivered approximately 2 million doses to a handful of African countries.
But the charities said COVAX was far from an acceptable solution as it would only result in 20% of the population in those countries being vaccinated by the end of the year.
NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.
A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.
“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.
“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”
An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.
The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.
Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.
It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.
“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.
It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.
But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.
Vatican City, – Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to practice charity in Lent this year by caring for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
In his message for Lent 2021, the pope asks people to “experience Lent with love,” which “rejoices in seeing others grow.”
“To experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to his Servant, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you’ (Isaiah 43:1). In our charity, may we speak words of reassurance and help others to realize that God loves them as sons and daughters,” Pope Francis wrote in the message published Feb. 12.
The pope emphasized that even a small amount of almsgiving when offered with “joy and simplicity” can multiply, as did “the loaves blessed, broken and given by Jesus to the disciples to distribute to the crowd.”
“Love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness,” he said.
The pope’s Lenten message centers on the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Pope Francis signed the message, entitled “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem. Lent: A Time for Renewing Faith, Hope, and Love,” on Nov. 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica.
The liturgical season of Lent will begin this year with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 17. The Vatican has instructed priests to distribute ashes by silently sprinkling them on people’s heads this year due to the pandemic.
Pope Francis said that the theological virtue of hope is particularly important as the world continues to grapple with the effects of the pandemic.
“In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for his creation which we have often mistreated,” he said.
“St. Paul urges us to place our hope in reconciliation: ‘Be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others.”
The pope said that one can give hope to others by being kind, sharing the “gift of a smile” or speaking a word of encouragement.
“In Lent, may we be increasingly concerned with speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn,” he said.
He added: “Through recollection and silent prayer, hope is given to us as inspiration and interior light, illuminating the challenges and choices we face in our mission. Hence the need to pray (cf. Matthew 6:6) and, in secret, to encounter the Father of tender love.”
“To experience Lent in hope entails growing in the realization that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of new times, in which God is ‘making all things new’ (cf. Revelation 21:1-6). It means receiving the hope of Christ, who gave his life on the cross and was raised by God on the third day, and always being ‘prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that is in [us]’ (1 Peter 3:15).”
In a Vatican press conference discussing the pope’s Lenten message, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said that Pope Francis weaved together the traditional Lenten practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving with the three theological virtues, revealing their interconnectedness.
Turkson said that it was particularly important during the pandemic to be rooted in the practice of prayer to cultivate the theological virtue of hope, which can give one a sense of “vision” when confronted with the world’s problems.
Msgr. Bruno Marie Duffé, secretary of the dicastery, commented: “Fasting opens our spirit, body and whole being to the gift of God. By breaking with an egocentric, egotistical lifestyle and excessive, even compulsive consumption … we consent to live a poverty that is an openness to others and to God. And we receive a love that comes to us from the Father and from Christ.”
“Fasting, therefore, consists in freeing our existence from what encumbers it, from the overload of things, useful and useless, from true or false information, from the habits and dependencies that bind us, to open the door of our hearts and minds to the One who comes to share our human condition until death: Jesus, the Son of the living God.”
Pope Francis wrote in his Lenten message that fasting, prayer, and almsgiving “enable and express our conversion.”
“The path of poverty and self-denial (fasting), concern and loving care for the poor (almsgiving), and childlike dialogue with the Father (prayer) make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity,” he wrote.
These traditional Lenten practices “revive the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit and the love flowing from the merciful heart of the Father,” Francis said.
“May Mary, Mother of the Saviour, ever faithful at the foot of the cross and in the heart of the Church, sustain us with her loving presence. May the blessing of the risen Lord accompany all of us on our journey towards the light of Easter.”
RIO DE JANEIRO, – With hospitals overflowing and oxygen supplies running low, indigenous leader Joilson Karapana fears a second wave of COVID-19 deaths in the Brazilian city of Manaus could prove even more devastating for his tribal community.
When the coronavirus pandemic swept the Amazon metropolis last year, several of Karapana’s close relatives and members of his 50-strong tribe died from the disease and more have recently fallen ill.
“I lost my brother, my father, my cousin, my aunts and other people I knew,” said Karapana, whose community lives in Parque das Tribos – an indigenous urban settlement of about 3,000 people in hard-hit Manaus, capital of Amazonas state.
“Now we have about five or six people short of breath, with pain all over their bodies. It’s a worrying situation,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Brazil’s Air Force flew oxygen cylinders into the jungle city last week as desperate relatives protested outside hospitals, saying patients had been taken off ventilators as oxygen supplies ran out.
Some of the sick were airlifted to other states as locals scrambled to buy oxygen on the black market to help their loved ones, according to media reports.
For the roughly 30,000 indigenous people who live in Manaus and rely on public healthcare, the situation is especially alarming, said Marcivana Satere-Mawe, head of the Coordination of Indigenous Peoples in Manaus and Surroundings (Copime).
“If we have to buy oxygen for our elders to survive, they will die. We have no income,” Marcivana said by phone.
The city’s government and the SESAI service, which provides health services in indigenous reservations, did not reply to a request for comment.
Amazonas’s government gave its first COVID-19 vaccine shot on Monday to an indigenous nurse in Parque das Tribos, saying frontline health workers and indigenous people in reservations would be the priority for vaccinations, a statement said.
‘MORE DIFFICULT EACH DAY’
Brazil has registered 210,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University, the second-highest toll after the United States.
The dead include 926 indigenous people, according to a tally by the indigenous umbrella organization APIB.
Grim headlines from Manaus mean some indigenous people living in reservations in the surrounding forest are unwilling to be taken to the city if they fall sick, preferring to take their chances with rudimentary local care.
“We had a case of an indigenous woman here with COVID, but she’s being treated here” said Maria Alice da Silva Paulino, an indigenous teacher at Yupiranga Village, near Manaus.
“She didn’t want to be transferred because of the deaths, the lack of oxygen.”
Sahu da Silva, a leader of the Sahu-Ape indigenous community near Manaus, said the only option was to treat people locally and hope for the best.
He said three members of his tribe were currently sick with COVID-19 symptoms.
“Whenever one gets better, another one falls ill,” he said. “We are in this fight, (but) it’s getting more difficult each day.”
MUMBAI, INDIA — Though she is a hospital administrator and nurse in western India who once trained nurses in the South Sudan during ethnic fighting, a Catholic nun’s worst fear about getting COVID-19 was going on a ventilator.
“I was certain that once I was put on the ventilator I would not survive. I would visualize how I was going to die,” said Holy Spirit Sr. Sneha Joseph, remembering a harrowing incident waking up after her appendectomy years earlier, intubated and gasping for breath.
But when she caught the virus, she not only escaped the ventilator, she survived after 18 days of treatment and ended up donating convalescent plasma to try to save the lives of coronavirus patients. “There was an inner voice that urged me to donate plasma,” she said.
Joseph was honored Nov. 1, 2020, as a COVID-19 Warrior by the governor of Maharashtra state at his residence in Mumbai, the state capital.
“I am proud of you. Thank you for your selfless service to society,” Gov. Bhagat Singh Koshyari told Joseph while presenting the member of the Missionary Sisters, Servants of the Holy Spirit a letter recognizing her “exemplary service.”
The governor, who is the Indian president’s representative in the state, pointed out that Joseph has inspired many COVID-19 survivors to donate blood to treat other patients.
The Warrior award program was organized by Spandan (heartbeat) Arts, a local nongovernmental organization, along with Ashish Shelar, a legislator in the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party.
Joseph donated her blood for the fifth time Dec. 9, in what news reports called a first for a female donor. “I still want to donate [blood], however, doctors advised me to wait,” the 57-year-old nun told Global Sisters Report in November after her fourth donation.
Joseph, who has a master’s degree in nursing, is currently the chief executive officer of the Holy Spirit Hospital, a multispecialty tertiary care institution her congregation manages at Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai.
The nun donates plasma only to poor COVID-19 patients in Nair Hospital and Medical College, a government-managed institution in Mumbai.
Ramesh S. Waghmare, a doctor and associate professor of the blood bank at Nair Hospital who facilitated Joseph’s blood donation, defines plasma therapy as a medical procedure that uses the blood of a recovered patient to create antibodies in those infected.
As part of the procedure, plasma, the fluid part of blood containing antibodies, is separated and transfused into a COVID-19 patient’s body. “This procedure has not been officially approved as an effective measure to treat COVID-19 patients. But it has shown positive results in our hospital,” Waghmare told GSR over the phone.
The doctor said his hospital conducts “guided plasma therapy” on COVID-19 victims with convalescent plasma from recovered patients such as Joseph as part of a clinical trial.
“We transfuse two units of 200 milliliters [6.76 ounces] each on a patient in two successive days and our results so far have been successful,” Waghmare explained.
The doctor lauded Joseph for donating plasma multiple times when other survivors have been reluctant to support the trial even once.
The Catholic nun, he added, has expressed willingness to assist them in the trial by giving her plasma unconditionally. “We are all indebted to her,” he said.
Joseph, however, believes that it was God’s plan to let her contract the disease so that she could gain new insights into her religious life and her desire to serve impoverished people.
She had her fears when she became ill, as the disease is so new.
“When I knew that I had contracted the virus, I was scared and thought my end had come,” Joseph recalled.
The nun said she had mentally prepared to die, if that was God’s will. She battled for life in the hospital for 18 days in May. A week after recovery, she was back on duty.
“Now I realize that God had a special purpose in letting me contract COVID-19. Initially, I was disappointed, as people keep away from COVID-19 patients even after they are healed,” she said.
Ursulines of Mary Immaculate Sr. Beena Devassia Madhavath, who heads the Sister Doctors Forum in India, appreciates Joseph’s “courage and generosity.”
Many people have fears and misconceptions about donating plasma, but Joseph had no problem, says Madhavath, who is also the medical superintendent of Mumbai’s Holy Family Hospital. “It is really a humanitarian work,” she told GSR.
Madhavath points out that not everyone can donate plasma. “A woman is eligible only if she has not conceived. Pregnancy leads to cross-reactive antibodies that can cause harm,” she said. (Tests used in Western nations to determine antibody safety in women are largely unavailable in India.)
“It takes at least three hours for donating the blood, and it needs a lot of courage and commitment,” the doctor nun explained. What she admires about Joseph is that the Holy Spirit nun could “spare so much time from her hectic work schedule in her hospital where she does double jobs as an administrator and a nurse.”
Madhavath said all sisters in the country are “really proud that one of us has done a marvelous work for the humanity.”
Joseph credits her religious vocation for paving the way. “If I was not a nun, I would not have been able to donate my plasma. I believe my religious vocation has a special purpose,” she said.
Even though she had heard about plasma therapy, she had no idea how to go about it. One of her colleagues, Pravin Nair, encouraged her to donate.
Joseph fulfills all requirements of a plasma donor. “Generally, one needs an antibody [level] greater than three for donating plasma, but mine was greater than 10,” she said. “My serum protein level also was on the higher side, a good indication for donation.”
Nair hails Joseph as a self-driven person who is committed to helping the poor. “When I informed her about the opportunity and importance of donating plasma, she identified the government hospital and started donation,” said Nair, the head of the microbiology department and infection control at Holy Spirit Hospital.
He added that Joseph always maintains that her mission in life is to serve others, especially poor people in a time of pandemic. She ignored offers from private hospitals and chose the government hospital since poorer patients flock there, he explained.
Some studies say plasma therapy is not useful to treat COVID-19, Nair said, but “treating a virus with antibodies is an effective mechanism in medical science and we believe plasma therapy is useful to treat pandemic virus.”
Another admirer of Joseph is Auxiliary Bishop Allwyn D’Silva of Bombay. “She had a very bad attack and suffered a lot,” said the prelate, who shot a video of the sister donating plasma to encourage others to follow her example.
“It is very rare for a woman to take such a step, but she realized the pain and suffering of COVID-19 patents and that helped her walk the extra mile,” D’Silva told GSR.
The prelate said he has found Joseph to be “a very humble” person. “She does it not for any fame,” he said.
Many others work in Catholic hospitals, but Joseph has become an example not only for Christians but others, too, D’Silva said. “Her life gives us a clear message: What we get, we need to give back.”
Joseph, the youngest among six children in a Catholic family of Kerala, a southwestern Indian state, wonders why her donations have drawn so much attention.
“As a child I had a passion to serve the poor and I grabbed the opportunity to give my plasma for their treatment,” she said. “I want to help only the poor who will not be able to pay for the treatment.”
The moment the COVID-19 lockdown started, I felt fear deep within. My inner voice was saying “stay at home,” but the cries of the thousands of the migrant workers all over the country kept me disturbed until I went out to help them.
Welcoming a stranger is an important evangelical virtue for Christians. Every human being has inalienable rights, so caring for migrants is a significant mission of the Catholic Church.
The Bible begins with the migration of God’s Spirit into creation, and ends with John as a refugee in exile on the Isle of Patmos. Between those two events, the uprooted people of God seek safety, sanctuary and refuge, and God gives directions for welcoming a stranger.
In his 2013 message to migrants and refugees, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the integration of migrants and refugees into society. On the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2016, Pope Francis said in his address that the situation of so many men, women and children forced to flee their homes must challenge us and break the barrier of indifference.
In 2000 my congregation, the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit and the Divine Word Missionaries began what is now a consortium of 12 religious congregations called VIVAT International, a nongovernmental organization that advocates at the United Nations. Representatives in New York and Geneva link the ministries of our members with the United Nations.
I attended the first workshop VIVAT organized — in Indore, India, in August 2011 — about problems faced by domestic workers and migrants. Inspired by this workshop, my congregation prioritized the issue of domestic and migrant workers and addressed them in all our mission areas.
When our federal government imposed national lockdown in March to contain the spread of COVID-19, millions of Indian migrants struggled as factories closed down. They lost jobs and were desperate to return home in that uncertain time. With no food, water or public transportation, they commuted hundreds of kilometers on foot—dying of hunger and exhaustion, suicide, road and rail accidents, police brutality, and denial of timely medical care along the way. Local and federal government help came too little and too late.
Heartbreaking stories of the migrant workers are too many to recount. I saw many migrant workers returning to their native places by means of inadequate transportation and with no food. I was dumbfounded to see many women and children packed among men — like merchandise — in trucks and other goods carriers. Many days of the painful journey were unforgettable, and the pathetic life that they endured after the lockdown cannot be expressed in words.
Thirteen groups of migrant workers native of Odisha who were in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Karnataka, Delhi, Mumbai, Telengana and Kerala were wanting to come back due to unemployment, financial crisis, starvation and fear of getting infected with COVID 19. When our community in Odisha was contacted to extend our help to the returning migrants, we networked with priests, sisters, laypeople and organizations in different parts of India to work towards the migrants’ survival and safe return home. We did the following:
Provided cooked and dry food to migrant workers who were on the way to their homes in Bondamunda, Gomardih, Bhubaneswar and Duburi;
Arranged for vehicles to help them reach their respective destinations;
Distributed sanitary kits and masks;
Extended regular contact and material, financial and moral support to the migrants.
As I started to network, I witnessed many good Samaritans — especially the Don Bosco Priests, Jesuits, Divine Word Missionaries, Pallotine priests, the Excellent IAS Academy, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, Handmaids of Mary sisters, and Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit, my own congregation, who spent their time, energy, resources and finances willingly and generously, and above all, risked their own lives to support the migrants in need.
Five girls from Kantapalli village, living in the south, had no food to eat. When we asked, the Don Bosco priests in our network provided all the help for their immediate needs and train tickets. They reached Odisha safely and after quarantine, they are at home now.
Two boys from Birjapalli (Odisha) lost their jobs in Delhi. They managed to get partway home, and the Pallotine priests were contacted to help get them the rest of the way home.
Three girls from Duburi, Odisha, working in the south, lost everything and wanted to return home. With the help of the Don Bosco priests, two girls reached home safely and the third girl was admitted to a hostel.
Twelve migrants from Sundargarh district, working in the south, were faced with extreme difficulties and decided to return home. They informed their supervisor of their desire and need to return home. He gave them a false promise that he would send them home soon. When this promise was not fulfilled even after many days, they contacted us for help. Through stern warnings to the supervisor and appeal to the local police, all 12 returned home safely.
The Jesuits helped us return another group of migrants, and the Don Bosco priests rescued 18 who had lost their jobs and were bankrupt. Nine migrants from Bihar on the way to their working place were held in Rourkela for almost two and a half months, without work. A Divine Word priest and his staff in Rourkela fed them and helped them to reach home safely.
Two girls below the ages of 18 from Rourkela slum, Odisha, doing domestic work in Delhi, were jobless and struggled for food after the lockdown. A Divine Word priest was contacted; he gave them necessary provisions and planned to get them tickets for their return home.
A group in Kerala, South India, and another in Delhi, did not lose their jobs, but were afraid of infection and wanted to come back. Divine Word priests offered them counseling and convinced them to stay on.
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.