Minister of Education Claude Meisch was a guest on RTL Radio on Saturday afternoon.
Regarding the coronavirus, the Minister stated that it has "become faster", which means that the authorities have to respond, by detecting the virus quicker and expelling it from the country's schools as fast as possible. Thus far, it has not been conclusively clarified how many of the 379 Covid-19 infections last week were caused by the UK variant of the coronavirus. The National Health Laboratory (LNS) is still in the middle of its analyses, Meisch explained. However, last week's data shows that there is a clear upwards trend. The Minister revealed that there were instances when five, six, or seven cases occurred in a single class in a short period of time. This time around, young people are being infected before the adults, which could trigger a third wave. The situation is different compared to last autumn, Meisch stressed, which means that the government must take immediate action.
Besides a stricter obligation to wear masks, this must also include increasing testing capacities. The entire school community will be asked to participate in another large-scale testing campaign and mobile testing teams will be sent to locations with particularly high numbers of infections.
Rapid tests for every class
Meisch stated that his ministry is currently working alongside the National Health Directorate on a rapid test scheme which would allow officials to keep an eye on the spread of the virus in every single class. This concept would allow final-year primary school as well as secondary school students to test themselves. Different types of tests are being considered, although according to Meisch there is a clear preference for saliva tests, which do not require the involvement of any medical professionals. The tests would be carried out in regular intervals at school and with the consent of parents in the case of minors. Meisch stressed that these tests should be used in all schools and in every single class. Details are still being worked out at the moment.
Stricter quarantine rules
The Ministry noticed that more people have participated in testing since the mobile testing teams have been sent out. A recurring issue was that 30 to 40% of students and teachers did not get themselves tested following a quarantine. The corresponding legislation is currently being adjusted in order to make a negative test result a mandatory prerequisite for leaving quarantine, Meisch explained. According to the Minister, people have become somewhat careless on this particular issue, but this will no longer be tolerated in the future.
Meisch stressed that the main goal is and will always be to maintain a child-friendly style of teaching, in particular on the subject of masks. After the carnival holidays, a general obligation to wear masks will be introduced in primary schools, with the exception of Cycle 1 and day care facilities. Over the past weeks, an increased number of Covid-19 infections were reported in primary schools. Meisch explained that schools will also receive a supply of surgical masks, which they can then distribute to students whose masks are evidently too old or the wrong size. However, children will also still be able to wear self-made masks. The Minister made it clear that in his eyes, there is definitely no need to overdo it in this area. The new measure will already be a burden to little children. This is why it is now even more important to take a moment every now and then to simply ask the children how they are doing, Meisch added.
The Minister thinks that it would be wrong to completely shut down the educational sector, including canteens, school transport, schools, and day care facilities, at this point in time. Instead, the new stage plan provides for regional measures which can be adapted to an individual school, municipality, or canton. At which point the steering committee decides to send an entire building into quarantine or remote learning will depend on a whole variety of different factors, Meisch explained. It is difficult to determine specific indicators as situations vary greatly from case to case.
The Minister also announced that a new order for 30,000 FFP2 masks for teachers has been placed. Everyone who wants to teach with such a mask will be able to get one, Meisch ensured. The CO2 measuring devices, which had been announced in December, are now to be installed in primary schools after the carnival holidays. Initially, it had been planned to equip every building with the devices before the carnival holidays.
Contrary to final year exams, there are currently no plans to adapt the "épreuves communes" in Cycle 4.2, Meisch stated. If the virus allows for it, it would be wrong not to hold these exams, according to the Minister.
Psychologists are needed on the field
Over the course of the second semester, the Ministry wants to prioritise the children's well-being. Many of them are not doing well after one year of living in a pandemic, which is why the Ministry is calling upon teachers to actively check up on their students. If possible, Meisch added, psychologists – who had been charged with tracing at the end of last year – should also return to their actual work environment as it is where they are needed at the moment.