Storm warning for Jean-Michel Blanquer. For several days, the Minister of Education has been under fire from critics because of the management of the health crisis in schools. The successive changes to the health protocol have exhausted parents of students, teachers and management. Faced with the mess, all the teachers’ unions called for a strike this Thursday, January 13.
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But the government responds to assume » the strategy of « test rather than close schools, and relies on repeated self-tests, while a ” budget of 20 million euros has been released for local authorities to obtain CO2 sensors and that “ replacement capacity ” teachers ” increased by 30% according to Gabriel Attal. In other European countries, governments have opted for health protocols for some that are much more restrictive, while others assume to reduce the measures. Overview.
In Spain, closure of a class from 5 cases
Children have been back to school in Spain since January 10 with a new health protocol, adapted to the Omicron variant. In kindergarten and primary school, contact cases of a child who tested positive no longer need to isolate themselves. Until the beginning of the year, all had to be quarantined, unless fully vaccinated or naturally immune. From now on, it is only imposed from 5 cases detected in the same class, or 20% of the group of students.
Tested positive or not, any student who shows symptoms of Covid must stay at home and contact the health center in their city. If his case is suspicious, he remains isolated until the result of a test. Quarantine for children has been reduced from 10 to 7 days. Those who have contracted the disease no longer need to be tested at the end of the isolation period to return to class. A plan, in effect until February 28, 2022, allows parents whose children are in quarantine to adapt their working day. In the event of total stoppage, their salary is adjusted accordingly.
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The country has put in place a system known as stable coexistence groups “. He plans to avoid any contact between the different classes. In kindergarten, these groups can go up to 25 pupils and 30 in primary. In the classrooms, the desks must respect a minimum distance of 1.5 meters and, from the age of 6, the mask is imperative. Local authorities reserve the right to take stronger action when multiple cases are detected in a school. This ranges from strengthening hygiene standards to closing classes or the school.
Spain is not plagued by a protest movement comparable to France, but the unions are still criticizing. In the community of Madrid, they estimate a teacher absence rate of 10%. “It is clear that the Ministry of Education is trying to hide the real data to try to show that the management of the pandemic in schools is good ” denounces the UGT union. Throughout the country, the daily El País recorded 11,380 absences this Monday, January 10, putting a strain on the replacement system.
Italy copies France
Like France, Italy has not been simple for its health protocol, except in kindergarten. At the first case of Covid, the class closes for 10 days. At the end, the children must be tested before returning to school. But, from primary school, things get tough. It only takes one positive case to start screening all students, which will be doubled by a new test 5 days later. Without further infection, classes are maintained with social distancing. If two cases are detected, the class aligns itself with the protocol provided for in kindergarten.
From college, and until high school, face-to-face remains the rule as long as there is only one case. Students will be required to wear an FFP2 mask for 10 days. If a second student is positive for Covid, those who have not completed their vaccination will switch to distance education for 10 days. The others stay in class, still masked. Finally, if three cases are detected, face-to-face is suspended for 10 days.
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To teach, teachers must have their health pass up to date. The Ministry of Education sends directly to the directors of establishments the list of those who are valid. The start of the 2022 school year was feared by teachers. According to the ministry, nearly 6% of them were either positive or contact cases at the start of the week. More than 2,000 directors had called for the start of the school year to be postponed in a column published by the daily Corriere della Sera. ” We don’t know how we will be able to accommodate and supervise the children. Rather than facing a situation that will cause a disruption of classes and inefficiency in training, it would be better to suspend face-to-face classes for two weeks. they pleaded.
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Despite the Italian government’s refusal to postpone the start of the school year, some regional governors have taken initiatives in this direction. Sicily has postponed the return to class for three days. The president of the region justified himself by evoking ” the unanimous position of chancellors, school principals, trade union representatives and family associations, who ask us to convey to the national government the need to review the current position “.
In Portugal, isolated contacts
In Portugal, wearing a mask is imperative from the age of 10, as is maintaining a distance of at least one meter between students and teachers. The authorities have set up tests for all educational staff, regardless of their vaccination schedule in order to start the second trimester in the best conditions.
In the event of a positive test, an infected person must stay at home while waiting to meet the exit criteria, specific to each territory of the country. Contact cases must remain isolated and carry out a first test as soon as possible and a second after 7 days. If it is negative, they can return to class. At the discretion of the health authorities, classes or schools may be closed if many cases are detected, without a precise gauge having been put forward by the government – a scenario similar to France.
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Important point: since February 2021, the Portuguese authorities distinguish between strong and weak contact, depending on the duration of exposure to an infected person: if the contact with a positive person lasted less than 15 minutes in 24 hours, the contact is weak . The person should monitor for symptoms and get tested within three days – no need to self-isolate.
While until the end of the year, students had to confine themselves in the event of contamination in their class, the government has decided to relax the rules. Prime Minister António Costa believes that the situation in the country “ Is calm and that the number of severe cases is “ much weaker than a year ago. The new measures are not the subject of any particular union protest.
In the UK, two tests per week
Across the Channel, as schools reopened the first week of January after the Christmas holidays, 1 in 12 teachers were absent, according to the BBC, compared to 3.9% of pupils. Many schools claim to have difficulty finding replacement staff. The students all had to have a negative test to return to school. Classes are delivered online for those who have had to self-isolate. CO2 sensors and air purifiers should quickly help limit the spread of the virus in classrooms. As in France since mid-November, wearing a mask is again compulsory for students.
The British opted for repeated tests. All pupils and staff are required to carry out two antigen tests per week – and three in Wales. Same strategy in Denmark: they must carry out two screenings per week. As soon as a kindergarten pupil is positive, the others must go through two PCR tests, based on saliva samples.
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The situation of the teaching profession is tense in the United Kingdom. According to a survey carried out by a union of school heads, one director in 10 mentions an absence of more than 20% of his staff. 4% of them had to close entire classes to switch to distance education. For half of the respondents, their situation already depends on the replacements. The results show “ a disturbing picture of the situation, says Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of School Leaders. He considers that ” many schools are on a tightrope and the next few weeks at least will no doubt continue to be an incredibly difficult time “. On January 2, an inter-union sent an open letter to Boris Johnson. They consider the measures insufficient and call for more means, in particular air purifiers and financial aid to replace absent teachers.
In Germany and Austria, the regions on a case-by-case basis
In Germany too, the government insists: there is no question of closing schools, except as a last resort. The health protocol differs according to the regions, but guidelines emerge, in particular weekly screening without waiting as in France for a positive case to use it. Some tests are carried out using saliva lollipops, a less invasive sampling method for children.
In Austria, from primary school, children test themselves with a saliva sample in class. If a result is positive, an antigen should be performed. As in some German Länder, Austrian regions rely on pooling. This involves taking samples, identical to those taken for PCR and antigens, from all the children in a class. All student samples are then ‘mixed’ and subjected to joint PCR analysis. If the result comes back positive, it means that there is at least one positive case in the class: all are then tested individually.
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