UK Government Urgently Sends COVID Tests To Schools So Classrooms Can Reopen

Schoolchildren returned to school on Monday in parts of Europe, while the British government has pledged to urgently deliver ventilators and sufficient COVID-19 testing kits to schools to ensure they can also open later this week, despite the rapid increase in the incidence in the UK.

High school students in England will also be required to wear masks when they return to classes after Christmas break, and they may also face class consolidation due to staff shortages.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the guidelines on the use of masks are intended to contain the transmission of the virus.

“We don’t want to leave them. I don’t like the idea of ​​wearing masks in class more than anyone else, but we won’t keep them for a day longer than necessary, ”he said.

UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahavi told Sky News: “The priority is to keep schools open.”

He said testing, ventilation and other measures taken “are of great importance for schools this year.”

The highly contagious variant of the omicron has led to a sharp increase in the number of new cases in the UK during the Christmas and New Year period, with 157,758 cases reported in England and Scotland on Monday. Figures for Wales and Northern Ireland have not been published.

Patrick Roach, general secretary of Britain’s NASUWT teachers’ union, welcomed the news that more ventilators and test kits will be available, but warned on Sunday that the education industry has another pressing issue as schools prepare to reopen.

READ MORE: UK reports sharp rise in COVID deaths, builds temporary wards

“The presence of teachers and support staff is also a key pressure factor for schools this semester as the number of COVID cases continues to rise,” Roach said.

Zahavi addressed the matter on Monday, saying the government continues to monitor the lack of personnel amid the pandemic. He told Sky that absenteeism was about 8 percent last year. “If this goes further, we’ll look at things like merging classes, learning more,” he said.

Across Europe, schools were reopening or preparing for another new semester, marred by a global pandemic.

The children returned to class on Monday in several parts of Germany, where patchy testing and reports over the holiday period meant infection rates were somewhat uncertain.

In Berlin, one of the states where schools have reopened, the local education minister has announced that children will be tested daily this week. But Astrid-Sabin Busse told RBB Inforadio that current plans include reducing the number of tests to three per week thereafter.

Testing “is already an absolute routine in school before lessons and we want to keep it going,” she said.

In the eastern state of Thuringia, which has had the highest infection rate in Germany in recent weeks, children will start the new semester by studying at home for at least two days. Starting Wednesday, it will be up to schools to decide whether to stick with online learning, put kids back in class, or work a combination of the two.

More than 12 million French children returned to school on Monday with new rules aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. French children aged 6 and over are required to wear a mask in classes from November.

If a child tests positive, all other children in the same class must test negative three times within the next four days to stay in school. The first antigen or PCR test must be performed by a healthcare professional, followed by self-tests every two days, which should be provided free of charge by pharmacies.

The move comes amid a record high number of infections caused by the omicron variant, which has sparked massive demand for self-testing across the country.

Pharmacists on Monday raised concerns about possible drug shortages caused by a new testing regime unveiled Sunday.
The government is also encouraging local governments in charge of funding public schools to buy carbon dioxide sensors that alert when classrooms need to be ventilated.

Italian schools are not scheduled to reopen until next week, but local leaders are already mulling possible delays given the spike in cases in Italy.

Campaign South Governor Vincenzo De Luca on Monday suggested that a 20 to 30-day delay in resuming full-time education would allow for the next peak in incidence, expected by the end of this month, and give more time to increase vaccinations among schoolchildren.

“This is not ideal, but it would allow us to quickly resume face-to-face classes, with more peace of mind for students, families and school staff,” De Luca said. It was not immediately clear whether his proposal was a trial balloon or a real proposal.

The Netherlands’ interim education minister, Arie Slob, said Monday that elementary and high school children will be allowed to return to classes the following Monday after a vacation that has been extended to three weeks as part of a nationwide quarantine that will last until January 14.

AP contributors Geir Moulson in Berlin, Sylvie Corbett in Paris and Nicole Winfield in Rome have contributed.

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