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Bangladesh extends school shutdown over second COVID-19 wave

DHAKA, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Bangladesh is extending its closure of all schools and other educational institutions until Dec. 19 amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections during the winter, the education ministry said on Thursday.

Experts say Bangladesh, 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 all schools and other educational institutions in the country on March 17. The closure has since been extended several times, with the last order stating that schools would remain shut until at least 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 put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Daily infections have shown a rising trend this month, with 1,845 new cases and 13 deaths reported on Thursday.

“The government took the right decision. 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, while universities are conducting online classes.

But rights groups fear many are at risk from not returning to classes. Most children in Bangladesh do not have access to the Internet, while many have left the cities due to their parents losing income as a result of the pandemic. Some have been forced into marriage or to work in factories to help their families get by.

“There are currently no statistics available on the dropout rate. But we fear the figure could be as much as 40%,” said Rasheda Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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