UWI COVID-19 task force shifting gearsSunday, April 04, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Chair of the COVID-19 task force of the University of the West Indies Professor Clive Landis says with the region now centred on rolling out vaccination programmes, the task force over the coming weeks will be shifting its focus from the public health aspect of the pandemic to the societal issues it has birthed.
“The taskforce is quite a big body, it doesn't just consist of scientists like epidemiologists and virologists and zoologists, but we also have psychologists, psychiatrists, communications experts, economists and so what you will be seeing more and more is that our focus is going to shift gradually from supporting the public health aspect which is currently very much focused on the vaccine rollout and will start taking on some of the societal issues which are now playing out as the pandemic goes on for over a year,” Landis, a leading Caribbean immunologist said.
He was speaking during last week's virtual panel discussion hosted by the task force themed Mind the Education Gap -Schooling in the Caribbean During COVID-19.
Professor Landis said the closure of schools, some for well over a year and the impact on students has consumed the body.
“This is one of those very important areas which is concerning a lot of us, the impact of this pandemic on schools and many of them have been closed now for over a year, some have closed, reopened, closed again.
“When we balance the risk of opening and closing schools, that particular equation is not a static one, so we know that absence from school and school closures has effects which are cumulative on the loss of knowledge, loss of skills for children, their physical health, their mental health, the risks they are exposed to...and that risk increases with time,” he pointed out.
Noting that the “risk is increasing with time” he said focus must be placed on generating ideas on how to manage the safe reopening of schools.
“That balance between opening and closing schools is now shifting all the more urgently towards opening schools because the manifest risk to the children is increasing over time,” Professor Landis stated.
According to Professor Landis, “schools are not considered dangerous spreading environments per se”.
“If you look at the United Kingdom's Labour Force Survey of all the professions, teachers were not at more risk than the general public to catch COVID-19, as a matter of fact they were actually less likely to catch COVID-19.
I want to call attention to the best practices which have been coming to the fore in the Caribbean in ways that we can reopen schools,” he noted.
Said Professor Landis, “it was very interesting to see that Barbados took one approach, which was to vaccinate the teachers; that might be one approach. When I've sat in on education committees in other countries, the issue of transportation comes up, so maybe there needs to be a national effort to mobilise the buses in the hospitality and tourism sector which are all standing idle to help children be bused to school in a safe way. Whatever it is we need to find ways in which we can safely open schools”.
The task force, which was formed just ahead of the pandemic reaching Caribbean shores after first being discovered in Wuhan China in December 2019, aims to leverage the university's knowledge and experts to assist the Caribbean in its readiness and response to the virus outbreak.
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