On re-opening schools: if only it was as easy and risk free as opposition politicians imply

By stewartb

Any notion that the Scottish Government does not wish to see all schools back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible makes no sense. But where Covid-19 and public health, and especially the welfare of the country’s children, are concerned why would anyone NOT have the ‘precautionary principle’ front and centre of every consideration? The safety of pupils, school staff and the wider community must be paramount in planning for schools to re-open as we all play a part in seeking, progressively to suppress coronavirus.

There is now a growing number of international examples where following the easing of lockdown newly opened schools are having once again to be closed following further outbreaks of coronavirus.

The purpose of profiling examples here is not to add to concerns of parents but to give some insights, some perspective, to hold on to in the midst of media coverage. This is important as we hear certain loud voices in opposition to the Scottish Government and its cautious approach on managing the return to school in August.

South Korea : 29 May, 2020: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-52845015

“More than 200 schools in South Korea have been forced to close just days after they re-opened, due to a new spike in virus cases. Thousands of students had earlier on Wednesday returned to school as the country began easing virus restrictions. But just a day later, 79 new cases were recorded, the highest daily figure in two months.

France : 18 May, 2020:  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/coronavirus-france-school-cases-reopen-lockdown-a9520386.html

“Just a week after one-third of French schoolchildren went back to school in an easing of the coronavirus lockdown, there has been a flurry of about 70 Covid-19 cases linked to schools.

Some schools were opened last week and a further 150,000 secondary school students went back to the classroom on Monday as further restrictions were loosened by the government. The move initially spelled relief: the end of homeschooling for many hundreds of thousands of exhausted French parents, many of whom were also working from home.

But French education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer sounded the alarm on Monday, telling French radio RTL that the return has put some children in new danger of contamination. He said the affected schools are being closed immediately. French media reported that seven schools in northern France were closed.”

Israel: 3 June, 2020: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/03/868507524/israel-orders-schools-to-close-when-covid-19-cases-are-discovered?t=1592486155596

Two weeks after Israel fully reopened schools, a COVID-19 outbreak sweeping through classrooms — including at least 130 cases at a single school — has led officials to close dozens of schools where students and staff were infected. A new policy orders any school where a virus case emerges to close.

The government decision, announced Wednesday evening, comes after more than 200 cases have been confirmed among students and staff at various schools. At least 244 students and school employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Education. At least 42 kindergartens and schools have been shuttered indefinitely. More than 6,800 students and teachers are in home quarantine by government order.

It’s an abrupt reversal of the post-pandemic spirit in Israel as officials lifted most remaining coronavirus restrictions last week. With fewer than 300 deaths in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had declared victory in early May over the pandemic and last week told Israelis to go to restaurants and “enjoy yourselves”.”

New Zealand: 6 April, 2020: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/04/06/mari-a06.html

This New Zealand example is not about a reversal of a school opening but an example of how school communities are not immune to the virus even in a country that by all accounts has suppressed the virus very successfully.

The largest cluster of COVID-19 cases being tracked is at an Auckland girls’ school, Marist College, in the suburb of Mount Albert. The Catholic school now has 72 confirmed cases, having escalated from 47 over recent days. The entire school of 750 students plus staff and parents has been classed as “close contacts.” The New Zealand Herald described the college’s experience as a “nightmare.

On April 2, several primary school children from the nearby Marist School were reported to have tested positive for COVID-19, likely from contact with family members at the college. There have been unsubstantiated warnings of an “explosion” of cases among students from Lynfield College and Mt Albert Grammar who share the same school buses as Marist students.”

The latter point on school buses highlights another challenging detail that local authorities and school heads in Scotland must consider.

The Netherlands : 3 June, 2020: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-netherlands-school-idUSKBN23A2A8

“An elementary school in the Netherlands closed in the city of The Hague on Wednesday after two teachers tested positive for coronavirus and seven students developed gastrointestinal symptoms, an official said.

It was the first to close again after the Netherlands, which has reported more than 46,000 COVID-19 cases and 5,977 deaths, reopened elementary schools on May 11 at reduced capacity as part of a gradual lifting of lockdown measures.”

“The Dutch school’s two locations were closed, with about 500 students going back to online learning to minimize health risks.”