Schoolchildren returned to classes in parts of Europe on Monday, while the British government pledged to send ventilation units and enough COVID-19 test kits to schools to ensure they too can reopen later this week to despite high infection rates in the UK.
High school students in England too They will have to wear masks when they return to classes after Christmas break and could also face merged classes amid staff shortages.
“The priority is to keep schools open”British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News. “The tests, the staff support that we are implementing and, of course, the ventilation will make a big difference for the schools this year.”
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has caused the number of new daily cases in Britain to skyrocket over Christmas and the New Year, with 137,583 infections and 73 deaths reported in England and Wales on Sunday alone, and figures for Scotland and Ireland from the North will be announced after the holiday weekend.
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the British teachers union NASUWT, welcomed the news that more ventilation units and test kits would be available, but warned on Sunday that the education industry has another pressing problem as schools become preparing to reopen.
“The availability of teachers and support staff is also a key pressure point for schools in this period, as the number of COVID cases continues to rise,” said Roach.
Zahawi addressed the issue on Monday, saying the government continues to monitor staff absences amid the pandemic. He told Sky that absenteeism was around 8% last year. “If that increases even more, then we consider things like merging classes, teaching in greater numbers,” he said.
He also told Sky that he hoped that the guidance that high school kids should wear masks in the classroom again wouldn’t hold up “for one day longer than necessary.”
Across Europe, schools were either reopening or preparing for another new period overshadowed by the global pandemic.
Children returned to school on Monday in various parts of Germany, where tests and erratic reports during the holiday period mean the level of infections was somewhat uncertain.
In Berlin, one of the states where schools reopened, the local education minister said daily tests will be conducted for children this week. But Astrid-Sabine Busse told RBB Inforadio that current plans call for it to be reduced to three tests per week after that.
Testing “is already an absolute routine at school, before class, and we want to keep it up,” he said.
In the eastern state of Thuringia, which had Germany’s highest infection rate in recent weeks, children will start the new trimester by learning from home for at least two days. Starting Wednesday, schools will decide for themselves whether to continue learning online, bring children back to the classroom, or work with a combination of both.
More than 12 million French children returned to school on Monday, with new rules aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. French children from 6 years old must wear a mask in classrooms from November.
If one child tests positive, all other children in the same class must test negative three times in the next four days to stay in school. The first antigen test or PCR must be performed by a healthcare professional, followed by self-tests every other day, which pharmacies must provide free of charge.
The move comes amid record infection numbers driven by the omicron variant, prompting a massive demand for self-tests across the country.
Pharmacists raised concerns Monday about possible shortages caused by the new testing regimen unveiled on Sunday.
The government is also encouraging local authorities, in charge of funding public schools, to purchase carbon dioxide monitors that provide an alert when classrooms need ventilation.
Italian schools are not scheduled to reopen until next week, but local leaders are already considering possible delays given the increase in cases in Italy.
The governor of southern Campania, Vincenzo De Luca, suggested on Monday that a delay of 20 to 30 days for the resumption of face-to-face schooling would allow the next peak in cases to pass, which is expected by the end of this month, at the same time. which gives more time to increase vaccinations among students.
“It is not an ideal measure, but it would allow us to resume lessons in person quickly, with greater serenity for students, families and school staff,” said De Luca. It was not immediately clear whether his suggestion was a test balloon or an actual proposal.
The Dutch interim government met on Monday to decide whether the children will be allowed to return to classrooms next week after a holiday that was extended to three weeks as part of a nationwide shutdown that will continue until January 14.
The Dutch lockdown led to reductions in infection rates in recent weeks, but the numbers have started to climb again with the omicron variant now dominant in the Netherlands.
(with information from AP)
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