The Anastasiades government has shown what its priorities are with the latest measures it announced. It is certainly not education as it has decided to keep gymnasiums (first three years of secondary school) closed for another two weeks, thus keeping these children at home for a staggering three months. In Limassol it has decided to close all primary schools for two weeks.
Meanwhile all restaurants, cafes, bars will reopen as long as they have outdoor seating. It is a peculiar way of controlling the spike in cases and the rise in hospitalisations the health minister is worried about. There is a suspicion that the latest measures and relaxations, which show a contradictory approach were determined by expediency rather than the epidemiological data the minister always likes to cite.
Restaurant and café owners applied so much pressure on the government, it could not go back on its promise to allow their reopening on March 16. Funnily enough, the number of cases currently are much higher than what they were when the government decided to close them down last December. Such was the pressure from business owners however, the government would not dare keep them closed any longer.
Parents associations, in contrast, were reluctant to put much pressure on the government and gymnasium children will be penalised by the government’s slapdash measures. It is astonishing that in Limassol, which has consistently had the highest number of cases, the only added precaution taken was closing primary schools, while allowing all cafes and restaurants to open. Not even the epidemiological data justified this. Rapid tests at schools islandwide in the previous two days showed 15 cases in all (six on Thursday and nine on Friday) from a total of more than 20,000 tests.
The government did not even bother to do any research about transmissions in schools. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which had, found that “school-related cases of Covid-19 have been reported, but there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” Yet in Cyprus it seems closing schools has been the easy option – we were 14th among EU countries, for weeks of school closures (21.1) even though we were 22nd in infections per 100,000.
It is all a matter of priorities and for this government keeping schools open was never a big priority (teaching unions may have played a part in this), regardless of the well-known, negative physical, mental health and educational impacts on children. We should compare this attitude with what happens in Ontario in Canada which featured in a recent CNN report. The president of a teachers’ federation in Ontario, said “there have been occasional closures and widespread closures, but we absolutely agree with the perspective that it should be a high priority to keep schools open.” They follow all the protocols of spaced out, desks, handwashing stations and social distancing during breaks, he said.
In Cyprus, sadly, it has not been a high priority to keep schools open, the government oblivious to the harm it is causing a generation of schoolchildren.