Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
July 12, 2020

Parents face dilemma as US schools seek to reopen: Bill Gates ‘optimistic’ about coronavirus battle


July 12, 2020

GENEVA: American billionaire Bill Gates said on Saturday he was "optimistic" about the battle against Covid-19 and called for medicines and vaccines to be distributed to those who need them rather than to the "highest bidders".

Gates’ foundation pledged $7.4 billion to global vaccines alliance Gavi in June to help immunisation programmes disrupted by coronavirus.

"If we just let drugs and vaccines go to the highest bidders, instead to the people in the place where they are most needed, we will have a longer and more unjust, deadlier pandemic," said the Microsoft founder in Saturday’s video message to a virtual international conference on Covid-19 and AIDS.

"We need leaders to make these hard decisions about distributing based on equity, not just on market driven factors."

Gates stressed that the pandemic has interrupted the supply chains of drugs, including against AIDS, which risks disruptions which "could prevent hundreds of thousands of people from getting the treatments they need -- and not just in sub-Saharan Africa."

"But I remain optimistic," he added. "We will defeat Covid-19 and we will continue to make strides against AIDS and other health crisis."

He said the researchers are making great advances.

"Better diagnostic tools are being developed to identify those infected. Investments are being made in libraries of anti-viral drugs which has been an under-invested branch of science.

"Also, we are making great progress on vaccines," he said.

"These platforms won’t just be useful against this particular virus. They will also help us specifically for HIV.

"Of course, there is a big difference between getting a platform and making sure we get the products out to everyone who needs them."

The second reason for his optimism, he added, is the global solidarity, already demonstrated in the fight against AIDS, with the Global Fund created in 2002, and the American aid programme PEPFAR, launched by George W Bush and intended mainly for sub-Saharan Africa. "Whether it is AIDS or Covid-19, global cooperation and resolve to invent the tools and get them out where they are needed most is critical," he said.

Meanwhile, with the start of the US school year only weeks away, Marina Avalos still has no idea how or where her 7-year-old daughter will attend classes.

Like many mothers, Avalos is reluctant to send her child back to school at a time when coronavirus across the country has surged past three million cases, including 130,000 deaths.

On Tuesday, California -- where she lives -- set a new daily cases record, with 11,694 infections.

"The whole situation is making me very nervous," said Avalos, 46. "I don’t feel safe sending my daughter back in to school like before." Despite evidence children are less vulnerable, the fear of classroom contagion is shared by many parents, who suspect younger pupils will particularly struggle to socially distance or wear uncomfortable masks for hours.

Yet many are also desperate for their sons and daughters to return, whether for financial reasons as they plan to go back to work, or out of fear that their children’s education will be seriously damaged by months away from the classroom.

This conflict has spilled into the political arena too, with President Donald Trump this week vowing to open schools "quickly, beautifully, in the fall."

But California governor Gavin Newsom has insisted that schools must only open when it is safe to do so.

"That to me is not negotiable," he said.

Ultimately the decision is not up to the president or the governor, but in the hands of school districts.

Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest, has yet to decide on its classroom approach, although county health director Barbara Ferrer reportedly told education bosses to have "plans in place to continue distance learning for 100 percent of the time."

Monika Zands has three children between the ages of eight and 17, and firmly believes face-to-face teaching is needed for the coming school year, particularly for her youngest.

"Our older children did not fall behind as they basically did school every day online... it kept them in the natural flow of school," said Zands, 47.

"The little one definitely fell behind in knowledge and intellect -- if this continues I am definitely concerned about how she will have the drive and motivation to catch up." Last semester, the youngest girl received an hour of online teaching followed by five hours of homework.

"She’d be in tears, crying ‘I can’t see my friends, and I can’t do this and now you want me to sit and do homework all day long,’" recalled Zands, whose children attend private schools.

If schools do not reopen in August, she is considering grouping with other parents to hire a tutor to provide in-person lessons to a small group.

But it is a luxury few can afford -- something that concerns University of California Los Angeles child psychiatrist Jena Lee.

"I’m especially concerned of the risk of further polarization of learning between different socioeconomic groups," Lee said. Children "from more disadvantaged homes are more vulnerable to academic setbacks with schools closed."

Lee also warned that the longer schools are closed, the greater the "risk of more injury to education as well as their mental health and social development."

Avalos agrees. Her daughter has an attention disorder, which at school would be addressed by a specialist -- a service not available online.

As an only child, her "very social" daughter also badly misses playing with her friends.

Still, on balance Avalos would prefer her child -- who has recently battled pneumonia and bronchitis -- to continue remote learning for the sake of her physical health. "If it wasn’t for the virus, I would send her back to school."