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Our View: Knee-jerk reactions are penalising schoolchildren

Υπουργείο Υγείας – Πρόγραμμα ελέγ
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The last few days have exposed the government’s erratic approach to dealing with the pandemic, an approach that fails to inspire any confidence or reassure people that it knows what it is doing. When things do not go as planned the government immediately goes on the defensive, rushing into new decisions and of course blaming, as Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou did on Monday, the “lack of discipline” of a minority that “neutralises many months of sacrifice and deprivation” by people.

The possibility that the measures taken by the government might have been the wrong ones or their effectiveness overestimated is ruled out as a possibility, because it is much easier to blame the lack of discipline shown by people. What is worse is that the health ministry and the scientific advisory team seem incapable of dealing calmly with changes to the epidemiological picture, something they have consistently failed to factor in when taking their decisions.

At the start of the previous week, it was widely reported that all students would return to school on March 1, only for Ioannou to announce last Thursday that those in the first three classes of secondary school would have to wait another week. Was the change of plan caused by the cases reported in a couple of schools? Initially there were assurances there would be no testing for students only for the ministry to announce on Sunday children would have to be tested every week, a decision not all parents are happy with.

It would mean that a number of children would not be allowed back to school after March 8 (when the rule kicks in) because their parents do not want them tested. And if the compulsory testing stays in force for a few months there would be children that would not return to school this year. Is this fair or reasonable? As for the private tutoring institutes, the government measures are nothing less than absurd, limiting the number of students per class to one this week and four the next week. This is just another way of preventing the institutes from reopening.

These knee-jerk reactions were caused by the spike in cases in the last few days. The health minister appeared to be in a panic again over what to do and met the advisory team on Tuesday afternoon. Fortunately it was decided that no new measures would be imposed, because, despite the recent higher number of cases the health system has the capacity to cope. In addition to this, thanks to the vaccination of the elderly, there are fewer, serious Covid cases in hospitals.

Of course, this is not what Ioannou was saying five days ago when he was at pains to keep alarm levels high by warning that the situation in hospitals “is manageable but it could veer out of control.” At the time, only 40 per cent of bed capacity was being used while on Monday Okypy announced capacity had been increased by 50 per cent (another 100 beds). If the hospitals coped with lower bed capacity in January when there were 400-plus cases a day there is no reason now for alarmist, knee-jerk reactions that penalise schoolchildren.

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