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Pediatricians call for 'complete reopening' of schools in September
A group of Belgian pediatricians advising the government on its coronavirus response has recommended that all children return to school full-time from 1 September, despite growing numbers of confirmed cases in recent weeks.
"Without meaning to, our society has allowed children to doubt the meaning and importance of education," the Belgian Pediatric Covid-19 Task Force wrote in an open letter. "Removing children from schools also suggested that they were dangerous places, a totally false idea that we must very quickly correct."
The pediatricians added: "The future of 2.3 million young people will be seriously jeopardised if we do not grant them the attention they deserve. The complete reopening of schools plays an essential role.
"Doing 50% or even 80% is not enough. Distance learning is not enough. Schools must be given the means, both logistical and human, to allow a total reopening and offer a full-time education to all children."
They also pointed to the low number of coronavirus infections recorded at summer camps: "We know that the health risks for children and adolescents are minimal and that the transmission of Covid-19 is limited. We therefore see no medical reason to prevent a complete reopening of schools."
In their letter, the taskforce say children returning to school should not be expected to respect the 1.5-metre safety distance among themselves, but that distancing should be maintained between children and adults. They also support the use of facemasks by pupils aged 12 and over.
At the end of June, the education ministers of Belgium's three language communities agreed on a common plan for the organisation of the new school year, using a "traffic light" system based on the evolution of the pandemic, which could vary from one municipality or province to the next.
Regardless of the phase Belgium is in, nursery and primary children are expected to return to school as normal. If a child falls ill, their "bubble" (class) will be sent home and told to self-isolate.
In secondary schools, a return to 100% lessons in class is not expected until a vaccine becomes available and collective immunity has been acquired. In a yellow phase - where the virus is still present and spreading slowly - secondary pupils will return to class four days a week.
If the virus spreads more rapidly - the "orange phase" - secondary school classes will only be for two days a week, with remote learning the rest of the time. The same applies in a red phase, a widespread outbreak, with further restrictions on extra-curricular activities.