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Coronavirus: Parents say school closures ‘inexcusable’

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Members of the advisory committee on coronavirus have defended the decisions announced on Friday regarding schools even as parents called them “inexcusable” and “incomprehensible”.

It was decided that primary schools in the Limassol district will close until the end of March, while pupils in lower secondary school islandwide will not be returning on March 16 as previously planned, but at the beginning of April.

The experts are incapable of handling the situation,” head of the confederation of Limassol primary school parents’ associations Sotiris Christofi told the Cyprus News Agency in response to the new measures.

This decision is inexcusable, not only because it specifically targets primary schools in the district, “but also considering the psychological impact of keeping children away from school once more,” he said.

There is a very thin line dividing the health aspect, the psychological aspect, and the financial aspect of closing schools, Constantinos Phellas said when asked if children will be affected mentally by further school closures. He was speaking during a press conference with other members of the advisory team on coronavirus.

Phellas is vice rector for faculty and research at the University of Nicosia and also heads the committee on psychological recovery from the effects of the pandemic.

“It is difficult, but the council of ministers came to this conclusion by looking at the facts, that is the general epidemiological picture in Limassol” he said.

Rapid testing results in the past few days have shown very few positives, raising hopes for the smooth reopening of schools. Only nine rapid tests out of 10,980 performed in schools all over Cyprus on Friday came back positive, while the previous day only yielded six positives out of roughly the same number of tests.

However, the health ministry reported that between March 1 and 11, out of 243 tests performed in primary schools, 145 came from Limassol, which might explain the decision to close them briefly.

Christofi said that the confederation’s committee will be examining the new measures and issuing a formal response soon.

In contrast, head of the Limassol school board Dinos Ellinas said that government decisions are to be respected.

“We are ready to apply any decisions and protocols announced,” he said

A risk assessment is always involved in decision making and naturally there is always something to be gained and lost from each decision, pathologist and advisory committee member Costas Constantinou said in response to the same question.

“What we are losing by keeping children out of school is far greater than everything else” he continued, “but as always this is an effort to maintain a balance and make the right decision”.

More protests came from the confederation of secondary school parents’ associations, who called the decision to keep gymnasiums closed for two more weeks incomprehensible.

“We have come to the conclusion that the measures taken are inconsistent and put the economy first instead of health or education,” head Charalambos Dionysiou said.

Responding to the health ministry’s claims that schools are hotspots for transmission, Dionysiou said that gymnasium pupils should not be the ones to pay for it as they are the only ones who have not been in school.

“Are you trying to tell us that these pupils, who have been at home for the past three months, are the ones causing transmission in schools? It’s ridiculous,” he said, adding that parents think the decision lacks common sense.

“So I can take my child to a café, or he can sit with his friends without fear of transmitting the virus, but going to school, where protocols are kept, masks are worn and tests are performed is more dangerous?” he continued, referring to the decision also announced permitting outdoor dining to reopen.

It would be unthinkable for schools to hold final exams for the year, Dionysiou said, stressing that it is something parents will not accept. “When pupils return to school in April – because we don’t have the confidence that they will – they will face a mountain of tests, the same we have seen in lyceums and technical schools” he said.

Similarly, parents will not accept the possibility of extending the school year into the summer months without air-conditioned classrooms, Dionysou said.

“Since nobody else is interested in supporting these children, the only ones they have left are us organised parents, and we intend to set some hard limits on certain things,” he concluded.

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