Roundup: Europe begins cautiously reopening schools

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COPENHAGEN, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- After the governments in most European countries sent students home last year due to the severity of a second wave of COVID-19, the continent has recently seen a gradual reopening of schools amid debates on when and how students should be allowed to return.

On Monday, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Romania made up the initial vanguard of European nations that decided to start their own wheels rolling and return students back into classrooms.

Denmark took the cautious step of sending students in the first to fourth grades back to school.

"We can take the older students back to school when we have complete epidemic control later in 2021," said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Monday.

However, the youngest in Denmark returned to school on Monday with notable changes to the re-opening requirements of last spring.

Distancing, which was mandatory when school reopened last year, has now been abandoned in favor of an entire class remaining together as a unit instead of divided into teams.

Furthermore, young children will now be allowed to hug and play together but only with students in their own class.

Further guidelines laid down by the Danish Ministry of Children and Education prescribe free time between classes to be staggered, face masks to be worn by parents and visitors while on school property, an increased focus on disinfection, cleaning and ventilation, and greater availability of rapid testing for school staff.

In Austria, all students were permitted to return to school on Monday but not at the same time.

Elementary students could resume normal full days at school but secondary school students will be taught in shifts.

Students aged between six and 14 are required to wear a mouth and nose cover, while students over 14 years must don an FFP2 (Filtering Face Piece) mask in school.

Students are required to undergo nasal swab tests before attending class. Those who refuse must remain in distance learning.

Answering journalists' questions on Monday, Austria's Education Minister Heinz Fassmann said he was convinced that the tests fit into the school routine, warning, however, that "safety is only given for a certain time."

Austrian local media also reported that the Ministry of Education had ordered 24 million COVID-19 test kits, which are currently gradually arriving from China on charter flights. Of these, around 2.2 million will be delivered to schools each week.

In the Netherlands, the planned reopening of primary schools only -- closed for nearly eight weeks as part of the nation's lockdown -- was severely hampered by extreme hazardous wintry weather, which caused problems on the country's roads and railways.

While some primary schools did reopen, those in densely populated areas like Amsterdam and Rotterdam kept their doors closed on Monday and will likely do so again on Tuesday.

The most ambitious school re-opening in Europe took place in Romania, where local media reported that 2.13 million preschoolers and students returned to school on Monday out of a total of 2.918 million.

Romania closed all schools three months ago and divided the country into green, yellow and red zones depending on the severity of the coronavirus infections in a particular area to control the spread.

Under a joint order of the Ministries of Education and Health, the reopening of schools in Romania will be conducted with the mandatory use of protective masks by the entire staff and students, with the exception of preschoolers. Enditem

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