Bangladesh extends school shutdown over second COVID-19 wave

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh is extending its closure of schools and educational institutions which were last open in March until Dec. 19 amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections during the winter, the education ministry said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: People sit as they come to a coronavirus testing center in the Mugda Medical College and Hospital as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo

Experts say 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. It has extended the closure several times, most recently until Nov. 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 at risk from not returning to school and say many children have been forced to work to help their families and some girls have been forced into marriage due to their parents losing income.

“We fear the dropout rates could be 40% 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.

Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alexandra Hudson