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Patricia, gym teacher of Paules de Sarsa’s school, studies with Angel in the classroom on September 11, 2020 in Paules de Sarsa, Spain. Angel is 4 years-old, in his first year at school. Paules de Sarsa’s school, the smallest school in Aragon region, has five students between 4 to 12 years old. As students begin to return to school after a six-month shutdown, Spain became the first country in western Europe to reach half a million confirmed COVID-19 infections. – Alvaro Calvo /Getty Images Europe

When Covid-19 first struck, school closures were an almost universal, if deeply controversial policy. Not enough was understood about how the coronavirus spread and with hospitals across the world struggling, government after government chose to close classrooms.

Once the initial Covid wave passed, however, nations diverged in their approach. Much of Europe has taken a relatively relaxed attitude to keeping schools open. Right now, there are no full nationwide closures in European Union, although Germany and Poland are among the 13 EU countries to have only partially reopened their classrooms.

Whereas across the Americas, schools have remained locked for close to a year, according to Unesco, only the Czech Republic, Austria and Latvia, within the EU, have kept them shut for 41 weeks or more.

That is not to say, however, that European countries have refrained from reclosing schools in the face of second and third waves.

Of all EU member states, France had been the most reluctant to shut classrooms. Schools were closed for around eight to ten weeks from March 2020, but after reopening in the summer Emmanuel Macron, the president, resisted immense political and scientific pressure to close them again even in the face of a second wave.

However, at the start of April this year, France emptied its schools for four weeks as part of a wider lockdown, with the country gripped by a third wave. It had 5,9000 daily new cases per 100,000 people.

With daily infections down to 870 per 100,000, schools are now fully open again.

In Germany, the reopening of schools has varied across states, but there was a concerted effort after the summer holidays to keep them open. Angela Merkel insisted that “children should not become the losers of the pandemic,” and classrooms were given priority over other areas of the economy.

Nevertheless, with Germany in the teeth of a relentless Covid surge by January, with around 2,100 cases per 100,000 people and rising, schools were ordered to shut again.

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There have been partial reopenings since late February, however, under Germany’s emergency brake system schools have to close again if infections in the local area hit a threshold of 165 new cases per 100,000 people over three consecutive days.

After France, Spain spent the second least amount of time of any major European country with its schools closed, at just 12 weeks according to Unesco. Even as the country suffered large second and third waves, peaking at over 7,900 daily new cases per 100,000 people (the UK peaked at 8,800), schools remained open, even while those in neighbouring countries did not.

That, say experts, was thanks to strict protocols including mask wearing for all pupils over six years of age, the quarantining of whole classes after positive cases within their bubble and strict social distancing. Much of Spain also benefited from benign weather and the ability to keep windows open.

In general, while European leaders have been reluctant to close schools for months on end in the way they did at the start of the pandemic, shorter closures have remained a vital tool in the face of surging cases.




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Topics #Alvaro Calvo #Americas #Angela Merkel #de #European Union #Germany #Getty Images #gym teacher #Poland #United Kingdom #Western Europe