President Joko Widodo expects schools to reopen in July 2021, after 5 million teachers and education personnel have received the vaccine.
However, this plan is considered to not be grounded in data because the COVID-19 vaccination is still far from reaching 70 percent of the population. Further, the implementation of and adherence to health protocols is not yet widespread enough.
The Ministry of Education and Culture explained that schools would be opened gradually in the 2021/2022 academic year. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 Handling Task Force assessed that schools could be opened as long as facilities and infrastructure that support health protocols are prepared.
Epidemiologist from Airlangga University, Windhu Purnomo, claimed that the opening of schools in July is still a high risk. In terms of not reaching the minimum target to achieve herd immunity, he asked the government to wait for vaccination rates to hit 70 percent of the total population or around 188 million people.
Meanwhile, until Saturday 25th February, the number of people who had been vaccinated was only 1,616,165 people, an increase of 32,584 people from the previous day.
Windhu has estimated that the fastest that herd immunity can be achieved by Indonesia is within 1.5 years from now.
“It’s impossible if the progress of the vaccination is like this. Of course, it will not be safe in July. Five million teachers will be vaccinated, but it is not reaching the level of herd immunity. So, the virus transmission is still very high,” he explained.
Moreover, in terms of enforcing health protocols, Windhu said that actually opening schools could have been done without waiting for herd immunity provided that health protocols are implemented very strictly.
The problem, he said, was that this had not been done at the community level nor had the government demonstrated a good example.
He highlighted several cases of officials who actually sparked crowds. In addition, the weak implementation of testing, tracing, and tracking, known as the 3Ts, is believed to be increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Ahmad Ridhwan, a teacher at Satap Tabukan Selatan Tengah National Junior High 3 in Sangihe Islands Regency, North Sulawesi is in agreement. He has been holding face-to-face learning since the middle of 2020.
He said the implementation of health protocols during face-to-face learning at school still faced many obstacles.
“Because [we’re] on the island, we feel safe. Social distancing lacks discipline. The use of masks is also limited, we still use scuba ones, which are not up to standard,” he added.
Ridhwan also said that his school did not even have adequate sanitation facilities. The school is located on a hill, so there is often a shortage of clean water. To wash hands, students have to walk a long distance to the water source.
Until now, the school also does not have complete personal protective equipment (PPE) if they were to suddenly find a suspected COVID-19 case. They rely on masks, hand sanitisers, temperature gauges, and one room for isolation.
With limited and makeshift health protocols, Ridhwan is grateful that no cases have been found in the school environment or in the surrounding villages. However, he said the school had tried to eliminate activities that require gatherings such as group sports, rest time, and flag ceremonies to minimise crowds.
Windhu commented that the government did not have information regarding vaccinations for children under 18. The vulnerability of children to the dangers of COVID-19 is lower because of strong immunity.
However, he said, it does not mean that children are free from the dangers of the virus, especially for those who have comorbid diseases. Even a child who has been exposed and recovered may have, as yet unknown, long-term effects. In some cases, the lungs of COVID-19 survivors do not work as well as before.
“Of course, we do not want any child to fall ill and die because we are reckless, even though the number is relatively low,” he continued.