Covid-19 at school: In the Netherlands and Belgium, a return to school without panic

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It is in calm that the start of the school year took place face-to-face in Belgium, Monday, January 10, as planned. A return to school marked by new measures going paradoxically in the direction of a relaxation, so as not to see an increase in the days of missed classes and to avoid the pressure on the test centers.

→ READ. The Omicron variant, a catalyst for teacher malaise

All students from the age of 6 must wear a mask in class, a measure in force since December 3. In primary education, classes are now placed in quarantine for five days instead of seven, when at least four students (and no longer two) test positive for Covid-19. When children are high-risk family contacts, they must stay at home in quarantine for ten days.

One self-test per week

But if they are contacts outside their family and without symptoms, they can still go to school and enjoy the “right to education”. For their part, schools have the obligation to ensure the proper ventilation of their premises, and must install a CO detector2 in every room where many people gather.

Federal authorities also recommend that families give school-age children a self-test once a week. These measures are possible due to the “vaccination coverage relatively high among students aged 12 and over “, up to 64.1% for 12-17 year olds and 83.3% for 17-24 year olds, said the government, which hopes to see a large number of 5-11 year olds, vaccinated at 5%, receive two doses between now and the “Carnival” holidays in February.

In secondary school, the rules are also relaxed: young people vaccinated, for a maximum of five months, who happen to be high-risk contact cases are not forced into quarantine, but barrier gestures must be applied for ten days. All those who are not or partially vaccinated must self-isolate for ten days if they are contact cases. Quarantine can be lifted after 4e day (for those who received a single dose of vaccine) or from the 7e day (for non-vaccinated), with daily negative self-tests. The closing of classes after a certain number of cases is no longer automatic, and this decision is entrusted to the regional hygiene inspectorate.

Only primary and secondary have reopened in the Netherlands

To Netherlands, where an early closure of schools before the Christmas holidays and strict confinement were decided on December 18, the government found itself under pressure from Unicef ​​and 59 other organizations to reopen schools from January 10, the date that was scheduled for the start of the school year while the country remains entirely confined. In a joint statement, these children’s rights groups said that «the pandemic must be solved first by the adults. Children are made responsible for the health of adults, but their own interests are forgotten”. Those over 12 are already 84.4% vaccinated in the Netherlands.

As a result, the government did not lift the confinement, but agreed to open primary and secondary schools on January 10, as well as their extracurricular activity clubs. Those under 18 have the right to play outdoor sports until 8 p.m., instead of 5 p.m. since December 18. Schools must test pupils twice a week, while masks are not compulsory in the classroom, but everywhere else on school premises.

Warning from Dutch psychiatrists

The situation of higher education must be assessed on Thursday January 13, and the same pressure is exerted on the authorities in favor of a rapid reopening. The Association of Dutch Psychiatrists (NVvP) sent a letter on January 12 to the government and its pandemic management committee, telling them that the «teenagers are more likely than any other group to develop mental problems due to the closures. Mood swings, eating disorders and anxiety are on the rise, due to lack of peer interaction”. Psychiatrists in the Netherlands, who say they are overwhelmed, are therefore sounding the alarm.

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