Authorities on Monday justified the decision to postpone for a week the return of junior high-school pupils to classrooms citing the coronavirus cases recently detected in schools, warning things could get out of control.

Though it was initially announced that grades A and B of lyceums would return to school on Monday, with all gymnasium students to follow a week later, the reopening of the latter was put off for a week, meaning these children will not return until March 16.

At the same time, all students at lyceum and technical schools will have to provide a negative rapid test each week, starting March 8.

The last-minute decisions, announced on Sunday, followed the detection of 190 cases late last week in schools among teachers and pupils who are already back to school: kindergartens, primary schools and final-year lyceum pupils.

According to coordinator of the contact tracing team, Valentinos Sylvestros, these cases concern 56 teachers, 109 primary and 25 lyceum pupils detected in 43 primary schools, 19 lyceums, 15 private schools and nine kindergartens.

“You realise how exposed the schools are now to the virus,” Sylvestros told state broadcaster CyBC on Monday. “Imagine having 30 cases each in 100 different schools. We will be dealing with an uncontrolled spread of the virus within the community.”

He added that the test results of family contacts of these people have yet to be announced, expressing concerns that there might be a spike in cases within the coming days.

The education ministry said on Sunday after discussions with the ministry of health, that for as long as is considered necessary all children in high school will have to present a clear test each week.

“The aim is, since the teachers and the rest of the school staff are already undergoing periodic examination, to better shield the school and to reduce to a minimum the possibility of transmission of the virus within school, but also its transmission to families,” the ministry said.

The government contract tracing team said on Sunday that of the 13 clusters discovered from February 20 to 26 five of them refer to school units, one in Nicosia and four in Limassol.

The ministry urged all parents of children in lyceums and technical schools to give their permission so their children can get tested this week in one of the rapid test centres set up to deal with the general population.

All children will have to have a negative test in order to go to school and this will be repeated on a weekly basis. Mobile testing units might be sent to some schools.

The ministry underlined these rules are in place for both public and private schools.

Children in primary school should be encouraged to wear a mask during the school day, the ministry said, especially older age groups.

Any child that does not have a negative test or who cannot attend school for any other reason will follow online learning.