Thirty-five children and five staff members in a government-run home in Royapuram have tested positive for COVID-19 as on Saturday morning, officials from the Social Defence Department said.

While all infected children have been admitted to a government hospital in Tondiarpet, the remaining 22 of the 57 children in the home have been shifted to an adjacent building where they have been quarantined, a senior official said. The results of some more children are awaited.

‘Staff got it first’

An official from the District Child Protection Unit in Chennai said that the first child who tested positive had fever.

“The infection probably came from one of our staff members who earlier tested positive,” the official said.

Among the 57 children were those rescued from the streets and those taken in after calls to the childline number. Many were from outside Tamil Nadu.

“They are kept in a reception home until the Child Welfare Committee meets and decides on their case,” the official said.

A senior official from the Social Defence Department said that precautions had been taken at childcare institutions across the State.

The official pointed out that a majority of the children were sent home soon after the lockdown was announced as per Supreme Court guidelines.

Activists alleged that many children testing positive at a government-run home was an indication of the lack of focus on childcare.

“All children in childcare institutions across the State should immediately be screened, and if possible, tested for COVID-19,” said A. Devaneyan, a child rights’ activist.

Mr. Devaneyan said that District Collectors must convene meetings with all officials involved in child protection to ensure that steps are taken to safeguard not just those in childcare institutions but also those sent home.

He stressed on the need for taking steps to identify, and if needed, inform the families of children who have tested positive. “Parental care cannot be replaced by institutional care,” he said.

Girija Kumarbabu, a child rights’ consultant, said that caregivers at home should be educated on safety measures and step-by-step guidance must be provided. “A quick review of childcare homes in the districts should also be done immediately,” she said.

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