More masks, blended classes and continuous tests: omicron alters the return to classes around the world | Education

The unstoppable advance of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has put the authorities around the world on guard, who are now watching with concern a return to classes after the Christmas holidays that could trigger, even more, infections. While in Spain the ministries of Health, Education and Universities discuss this Tuesday with the communities how that return to school will be from next Monday, schoolchildren from other countries have already begun to experiment with the new measures that try to curb the virus in the classrooms. In general, the proposals of those who have decided to resume classes – Portugal and a good handful of school districts in the United States, for example, have preferred to delay the return – oscillate around the reinforcement of the use of the mask, the continuous tests to the students, the reduction of quarantines and, in some cases, blendedness.

France: new quarantine protocol at the last minute

Slightly more than 12 million French schoolchildren returned to class on Monday under the shadow of the omicron, which already causes more than 200,000 daily infections in France. Even so, the Government decided not to delay the return to school, although it has established a new security protocol that, due to the lateness of its announcement – it was known on Sunday – caused no little confusion and discomfort on the first school day of 2022.

To avoid the massive closure of classrooms, children under 12 years of age may continue to go to class even if they are in close contact with a positive case, as long as the PCR or antigen test carried out as soon as they know their situation is negative. Then their parents will have to carry out new tests on the second and fourth days after the first test. For this, announced the Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, families will receive the antigens free of charge at the pharmacy. The same rule applies to those over 12 years of age (among whom the vaccination already exceeds 80%), teachers and other staff, as long as they are vaccinated. If they are not, the isolation for contact cases will be seven days with a test at the end.

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United States: between postponements and massive tests

Earlier this Monday, Eric Adams, mayor of New York City, the largest school district in the United States, ruled out closing schools on the first day back to class after the holidays. If a student tests positive for coronavirus, instead of quarantining their entire class, students will receive rapid tests for seven days to check that they have not been infected.

School systems such as those in Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Newark delayed the face-to-face return of hundreds of thousands of students for a few days or weeks due to the spike in infections in the country, which has caused a significant staff shortage in several schools. In Washington City, all staff and 51,000 public school students must take a negative test before attending classes that begin Wednesday. California, for its part, has pledged to provide free home tests to all six million public school students.

Germany: daily tests and distance learning, by state

This Monday, the students from the Länder (States) of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Berlin, Saxony and Rhineland-Palatinate returned to classes, which will be followed in the next few days, in stages, by students from the rest of Germany. They do so with the general recommendation to reinforce the use of the mask in educational centers, indicated as an “absolute necessity” by the Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach (SPD). “The viral load of those infected is lower with omicron, so the masks work better,” Lauterbach told the newspaper. Picture on sunday last weekend.

From there, each Land is applying its own reinforcement measures against the expansion of omicron in schools. For the children and young people of Thuringia, for example, there will be distance training for the first two days (this Monday and Tuesday) and, from Wednesday, schools will be able to decide for themselves whether to continue with face-to-face, distance or alternate classes . In Berlin, where face-to-face classes began this Monday, students will be tested daily during the first week. Each school-age child will then undergo three weekly tests.

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The Ministers of Education of all the States will discuss the general situation of the schools in a videoconference this Wednesday, two days before the next conference of the heads of the central Government and the Länder that takes place on January 7 and during which, foreseeably, new restrictions will be adopted for the entire population.

A teacher hands out masks in an educational center, last March in London.
A teacher hands out masks in an educational center, last March in London.KEVIN COOMBS (REUTERS)

Italy: FFP2 masks and the Army to track infections

Ensuring face-to-face classes is a priority for the Government of Mario Draghi in Italy. Thus, one of the new security measures established to prevent the spread of the virus in schools is the mandatory nature of the FFP2 protection mask for staff who are in contact with students who are not required to wear a mask, either because they are minors. six years or are exempt for medical reasons. The rest of the students will continue to use the surgical masks during class.

In addition, the Army will be in charge of epidemiological surveillance in the school community and carrying out massive tests. The military will help in the tasks of tracking infections of students, teachers or any other worker in the educational centers.

The Executive has also planned a package of 400 million euros to extend the contracts of the additional personnel who have been employed temporarily to face the health emergency. Some 40,000 workers throughout the country fall into this category. In addition, the Government will allocate 20 million euros to provide psychological support to students and teachers who need it as a result of the pandemic.

England: concessions to the objective of presence

Boris Johnson has given a blunt order: this time the decision to close schools will not be repeated, as happened last winter. Most of the high school students return to classrooms this Tuesday. In some cases, reinstatement will be delayed for a few days, because most schools will implement a rapid antigen test system for students. The “recommendation” to use a mask during classes and in common spaces has also been recovered.

In the last hours, however, in the face of the more than foreseeable disproportionate increase in sick leave among teachers, due to positive cases, the Minister of Education, Nadhim Zahawi, has sent an open letter to all educational directors in which, for the first time Instead, despite insisting that they do everything possible to preserve face-to-face classes, he states: “If operational changes caused by staff shortages make face-to-face teaching impossible, I would encourage you to consider other more flexible ways of implementing classes. ”. That is, the Johnson Government gives the green light to schools to be able to recover, in certain circumstances, education online.

Netherlands: weekly checks after holiday advance

Primary and secondary school students will return to school on January 10 in the Netherlands. The university and high schools will remain closed until the new government, which expects to appear that same Monday, addresses the matter on January 14. The decision was taken after the Executive’s scientific advisers said that the opening of centers that host schoolchildren up to 18 years of age was “justified”. Organizations that receive children after school hours will also open, although the Ministry of Education has stressed that from sixth grade (9 and 10 years) preventive measures should continue to be taken. “We want tests to be done twice a week,” said Arie Slob, the outgoing minister. Children will wear the mask when moving through the hallways from the same age. With cold symptoms they will have to stay home. The teachers’ unions have shown their “astonishment” at the evidence that not all classrooms already have a good ventilation system.

Dutch schools closed a week before December 24, the date set on the calendar for the Christmas holidays, to stop the spread of the omicron variant. The Cabinet had pledged to avoid closure to contain imbalances in the learning of minors, but the advancement of the new coronavirus lineage thwarted its plans. “We face risks with this opening, but it is important that children return to class,” said Hugo de Jonge, head of Health, who will not repeat the position in the new Government. In recent days, Unicef ​​and 59 other organizations have called for the reopening of schools because, as they explain, “minors are held responsible for the health of adults, but their own interests are forgotten.”

Portugal: “containment” period keeps schools closed

Schools and kindergartens in Portugal were supposed to resume classes this Monday, but they will remain closed until next day 10, after the Government decided to postpone the start of the course for a week after the Christmas holidays. It is part of the package of measures approved by the government of the socialist António Costa country to contain the impact of omicron. The “containment” period, which began on the 25th and will last until January 9, includes other measures such as the imposition of teleworking in all those sectors where possible, and restrictions on hotels, restaurants and shows, reports Efe.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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