Cyprus Mail
Cyprus Featured

Coronavirus: Opening of schools in the balance as cases surge (update 4)

Photo: Christos Theodorides

The imminent reopening of schools hangs in the balance amid concerns, shared by teachers’ unions and pediatricians on Monday, that sending children back to class will only add fuel to a record number of infections.

Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas is due to discuss the surge in cases with the government’s scientific advisors on Tuesday. Any decisions for additional measures will be taken by cabinet when it meets on Wednesday with school reopening thought to be on the agenda.

Cyprus has been recording four-digit numbers of positive cases over the past week, hospital admissions have climbed, and authorities are bracing for numbers to continue to spiral on the back of holiday gatherings.

Large numbers of young people are testing positive, Makarios hospital is treating nine children with the virus, the highest number since the start of the pandemic, and experts note that a large number of both young people and adults are self-isolating as contacts of positive cases, something certain to cause disruption for schools.

Schools were initially due to open on Friday, January 7, but this was postponed to January 10 so that all could test before returning to class.

But there is growing speculation that authorities may opt for another postponement. Experts have indicated this may be advisable.

Pressed on the issue on Monday both the health and education ministers said they were waiting to hear what the experts would recommend.

“There is no magic solution. It does not mean that if we close schools and businesses the surge will stop. Our country has reached these numbers without the schools being in operation,” Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou told Sigma.

President of the Cyprus Society of Pediatricians Michalis Anastasiades on Monday urged a “small extension” as regards the date of reopening schools.

Anastasiades told CyBC that given the current situation and the surge in cases, it would be impossible for schools to operate smoothly on January 10 as many pupils and teachers have tested positive or are a close contact.

He said he did not anticipate a significant improvement in the epidemiological situation by Monday.

He was echoed by University of Nicosia professor of microbiology/molecular biology Petros Karayiannis who said given the community spread, many pupils and teachers are unable to attend school either because they have contracted covid or are contacts, and therefore schools would not be able to operate at full capacity

General secretary of primary school teachers’ union Poed Haris Charalambous urged the education and health ministries to address the situation. “If the schools open with the current state of affairs, what will happen will be more spreading of the virus,” he said.

“We do not want schools closed, but there are some conditions now which cannot be avoided,” he added.

Vice president of secondary school teachers’ union Oelmek Themis Polyviou spoke in a similar vein. “The situation is critical and we would prefer for a week to pass before children return to school so that we have a clear picture,” he said.

Moreover, systems in schools have been upgraded as regards online teaching compared to last year, he added.

Costas Hadjisavvas, president of the same union, later told the Cyprus News Agency that it was essential that a decision be taken immediately. Not only were the uncertainty and rumours as to whether schools would reopen or revert to online teaching bad for pupils’ morale, but all three years of upper secondary schools (lyceums) were scheduled to begin exams on January 14. Final year pupils particularly need to realise that the exams count towards their leavers’ certificate.

“Therefore, the issue as to  whether they will open or not open must close the soonest possible. Everyone should know where they are heading,” he said.

“We must stop playing with pupils’ psychology, especially of school leavers, and a decision must be taken.”

Exams in lyceums start on Friday, January 14 and end on January 28, with pupils due to come to school only for exams and then go home. As regards the gymnasiums (lower secondary schools), the experts should decide what should be done, he added.

The union has asked to see the education minister to discuss issues relating to the pandemic. Should the ministry decide to go ahead with the first quarter exams, arrangements must be made so that all pupils including positive cases or contacts can participate, he added.

Lenos Loizou, general secretary of the union of technical school teachers’ (Oeltek) said the dire situation was victimising pupils, especially school leavers during a critical academic year for their future.

Oeltek was waiting for the proposals of the education and health ministries. “We will adhere to all the protocols and if it is decided not to open the schools, the education ministry must start procedures to prepare for the quarterly exams.”

Myria Vassiliou, president of the union of primary school teachers (Poed), said it was important that schools reopen with a physical presence, but in conditions of safety.

She said before closing for Christmas, schools were facing staffing issues because many teachers were absent. It was important for the ministry to act to avoid this problem recurring, particularly as needs for replacements will be higher.

Poed disagreed with any change regarding the date of reopening the schools after the holidays, she noted adding that primary schools, nursery schools and special schools should reopen with a physical presence on the same day – and not on different dates as had occurred twice before in May 2020 and January 2021 – something which had affected schools’ smooth operation.

Pediatrician Kyriakos Hadjilambris told Alpha TV he believed it was too early to open the schools. “Cases have rocketed and the problem is not to have two variants together, that is for a child or an adult to get ill with both the Omicron and Delta at the same time or as occurred in one case in Israel with influenza A and the Omicron variant, in which case unfortunately the problems that will present themselves will be very serious.”

The director of the pediatric clinic at Makarios Hospital, Dr Avraam Elia echoed calls for a brief closure of the schools because of the surge in cases but said such a closure should not be protracted.

Elia said Makarios hospital was treating nine children for Covid-19, two more than the previous record. They are aged from one month to 10 years, while eight are under five. All are out of danger and their main symptom is fever.

He said there was concern because of the community spread of the virus which was infecting a lot of children who are vulnerable and not vaccinated.

“The ward is 90 per cent full, but if necessary, arrangements will be made to admit all the children with coronavirus,” he said.

Elias urged parents to vaccinate their children. “Failure to vaccinate poses a risk to the health of children and to the smooth reopening of the schools,” he said.

He added he did not support a lockdown, as everyone should shoulder their responsibility. “The overwhelming majority of the population has taken a responsible stance and been vaccinated and should not pay for the irresponsible stand of the overwhelming minority which has not been vaccinated.”



Related Posts

Police investigate scam targeting seniors

Gina Agapiou

Oev not here to sugarcoat the truth says federation president

Kyriacos Nicolaou

AstroBank bounces back to profitability

Kyriacos Nicolaou

Hellenic Bank slams union strike call

Kyriacos Nicolaou

Cyprus Business Now

Kyriacos Nicolaou

Limassol ranked in top 10 coastal cities

Jonathan Shkurko