The head sheriff of the Red Kite Learning Trust, a group of primary and secondary schools in the Yorkshire region, said the familiar events of a school back in life were particularly deadly after a year-and-a-half disruption caused by the coronavirus epidemic. But in addition to the usual excitement, this year she had a new feeling: “Fear.”
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Many Northern Hemisphere countries are beginning to see a new school year when highly contagious Delta variants of the coronavirus are on the rise – especially among children, many of whom are not yet vaccinated. Still, many governments, including the UK, are determined to bring children back to the classroom after 18 stop-start months of lockdowns, remote learning and abandoned exams. Schools in the UK have been closed twice for three months since early 2020, and major admission tests have been canceled for two years, disrupting university admissions.
While most European countries maintain some restrictions on schools, the Conservative government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pushing for something to be done to estimate pre-epidemic normality this year. This has removed social distance and masking orders and students no longer need to be grouped as “bubbles” to limit the spread of the virus.
Instead, the government says students should be tested regularly, and schools will be instructed to improve ventilation.
Teams of politicians and scientists who advise the government have acknowledged that it is a gamble. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said in August that “there will be an indicative increase in the number of people attending school after schools open.”
A separate independent group of scientists, often critical of the British government’s epidemic response, called the plan “reckless.”
But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the tests would help eliminate cases and preserve the government’s strategy as a “reasonable balance”.
Britain, which lifted almost all epidemic restrictions on business and socialization in July, has one of the highest coronavirus rates in Europe, with more than 30,000 new confirmed infections per day. Hospitalization and death are much lower than in previous cases, thanks to an inoculation campaign that vaccinated more than 16% of the population. But Britain still has an average of about 100 coronavirus deaths per day.
In contrast to the UK, Italy and Spain maintain social distance and masks for students and staff. In Italy, as in Turkey and Greece, teachers must show evidence of a vaccine or a recent negative coronavirus test.
In France, where students would return to school on Thursdays, students aged 6 and over must cover their faces, and full elementary school classes would be sent home if a child tested positive.
In Europe’s poorest Balkan countries, meanwhile, low vaccination rates and a growing prevalence have made it difficult for children to return to class after a year and a half.
In Kosovo, where the weekly average of new cases has increased more than tenfold between July and August, the start of the school year has been delayed from September 2 to September 13. Neighboring Albania has also suspended schools and the government has ordered mandatory vaccinations. Only one-third of the teacher population in Albania and less than 20% in Kosovo have been fully vaccinated.
Even in countries with high inclusion rates, alarm bells are ringing in areas where schools have already returned. Since the reopening of schools in mid-August in Scotland, the epidemic has so far seen cases rise to the highest level. Israel, where schools resumed on Wednesday, is currently restricting students to online education in areas with the highest infection rates.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 1,000,000 students from about 1,000 million states and about 100,000 teachers are in quarantine, two weeks after school starts. The rate of infection among young people between the ages of 5 and 19 is the highest among any age group.
The United States can give an indication of what lies ahead. American students returned to the classroom last month in many places as Delta diversity began to hit the country, sparking dozens of outbreaks in schools. In some states, children now produce the largest proportion of new covid-1 infections.
Many schools have closed completely or moved back to online education because many children and staff have fallen ill or come into close contact with infected people. In the state of Georgia, many school superintendents said they experienced more lawsuits and segregation in the first few weeks of class than last year.
Even at the beginning of the school year, there has been a fierce battle between parents and administrators over the need for masks, which has sometimes escalated into violence.
European countries are looking less polarized, but tensions are spreading around masks and vaccines in countries including Poland, where school leaders are trying to get push from parents.
“I can’t imagine a one-year-old child wearing a mask anywhere at school, even for five minutes,” said Alina Knock, the mother of an elementary school student in South Warsaw. “They’re under enough pressure to come back at the end of the lockdown.”
In several countries, teachers’ unions have opposed compulsory vaccinations for school workers. In Italy, protests against the government’s “green pass” system for vaccine passports have turned violent, including an attack in which a reporter for the national daily La Repubblica was repeatedly punched in the face.
Many countries with higher vaccine rates are vaccinating to play a special role in infections and illnesses – especially in the UK as there are a few more restrictions. Most UK teachers have been vaccinated, although this is not mandatory. The sheriff said only two of his school’s 140,000 employees refused to be vaccinated.
But most schoolchildren remain vulnerable. Britain is currently giving shots to 16-year-olds or older.
Meanwhile, some schools are taking stricter measures than the government advises.
Pepe D’ECO is wearing a mask in the hallway and community area of Wales High School near Rutterham in northern England where he is principal.
“We felt we would start with caution and not wear masks but would go back to that situation if there were spikes,” he said.
“My prediction is that we’ll see more masks worn next month. I mean, I don’t expect that,” he said. “But I think experience will tell us that they will.”
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