Opening schools at this juncture will give children the time to familiarise themselves with protective measures in view of winter when there may be a spike in coronavirus cases, a member of the scientific team advising the government on handling the pandemic told CNA on Thursday.
Professor Petros Karayiannis was speaking a day after Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said that schools at all levels will open on May 21 — but pupils will be limited to 12 in each classroom and will not attend every day but by rotation.
Teachers unions said they were taken by surprise by the decision amid earlier reports that any opening would come later and could be limited to older children.
Questions have also been raised about child care, given that children will not go to school every day and the oft-repeated advice that they should not come into contact with grandparents who are among the vulnerable groups because of age.
Karayiannis said there was a possibility of a second outbreak in the winter and the current opening of schools will allow children to accustom themselves with protective measures.
Children so far have been at home, with their parents who have been taking care of their safety.
“It is time they get accustomed to being careful for themselves when they are out of the house and school, so that if there is an outbreak in winter they will be in a position to deal with it, to protect themselves without us needing a lockdown,” he said.
The opening of the schools was among the relaxation measures so it was a question of when not if, he said.
“The government took the political decision to open on May 21. The proposal of the committee was to open having also in mind the experience of other countries which opened schools before us,” he said.
Denmark was the first to open and there appears so far to be no problem. Greece will follow this coming week. Germany opened schools last week. “So by the time ours open there will be some experience to rely on.”
Once the political decision was taken, what was needed was a collective effort so that these open in the safest possible way with the best supervision for the safety of children
Asked about children’s health, Karayiannis was reassuring.
“Why would children be at risk if we have no cases in the community? How will children be at risk? We can worry if we are not ‘clean’ by then. We will see if as a result of the relaxation of the measures we have spike at the beginning or the middle of next week,” he said.
To the comment that children will find themselves in a space where they would normally play and come into close contact, he said that children learn faster than adults and sometimes behave more responsibly.
“We have seen this on issues such as smoking, the environment, cleanliness and recycling.”
There will safety protocols for the operation of the schools, with just 12 children in class and different breaks etc.
In the event of a positive case, the class will be isolated and children will remain home. Children tend to be asymptomatic, he added.
Schools will be closely monitored. The ministry has decided on 20,000 tests on pupils and teachers who go back to school.
“I hope these show zero positive cases. To show that it is safe for schools to open. And if there is a problem, it will show in the tests,” he said.
He acknowledged there was concern that families may be infected.
“There is is this fear. It appears that children do not transmit that easily. However, there may be a risk for parents with whom they come into close contact.”
Children need not wear masks at school as they will not tolerate them well while the preventative measures to be taken at the school will be enough to protect them.
Karayiannis said that it is best children wash their hands rather than wear masks which they will touch.
Moreover they will be spread out in class with only 12 children each time.
“We have recommended that windows and doors remain open throughout the lesson for ventilation. I see no risk in class. Breaks will be separate. One class will not be in contact with children of other classes. The tuck shops will not open so that children do not crowd around. I do not think there will be particular problems with children returning school,” he concluded.