Listen: ‘Closing schools should be a last resort’

Pupils sit in desks with yellow dividers at Dajia Elementary school in Taipei
Pupils sit in desks with yellow dividers, set up as a measure against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Dajia Elementary school in Taipei, Taiwan March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Closing schools should be a last resort, Dr Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat said during an interview on 103 Morning aired on 103 Malta’s Heart.

Dr Azzopardi-Muscat who serves as the Director of the Division of Country Health Policies and Systems at the World Health Organization, spoke about the principles which are guiding the reopening of schools.

Speaking during the interview, the director underlined that safeguarding the children’s and educators’ health remains of utmost importance. When schools were abruptly closed off in March due to the coronavirus outbreak in Malta various children and teenagers suffered.

School in the time of coronavirus
Schools gearing up to the COVID-19 realities

She explained that this time round, what the authorities are saying is that closing schools should remain a last resort. She added that when the level of transmission is high, one might have to close a school for a limited amount of time. Schools in a particular zone could be closed to deal with the infection instead of closing all of them at once.

Dr Azzopardi-Muscat highlighted that there are various measures which one could take to curb the spread of the coronavirus, adding that there are guidelines on how children should wear face masks at school. She also mentioned the importance of social distancing.

Schools are set to reopen at the end of the month. On Sunday, Malta reported its highest single-day increase after the health authorities announced that a total of 78 cases were detected.

Dr Azzopardi-Muscat explained the use of bubbles, with children being kept in small groups which could be controlled in case someone tests positive. This would mean that one would place sections of the school in quarantine as opposed to closing off the whole school immediately.

Preventive measures do not only apply at school but also continue to apply outside in a bid to curb the spread of the virus. The public health doctor underlined the importance of having a plan ahead of the scholastic year, noting that all indications show that the next six months are going to be ‘more difficult and cruel’ than last spring. She underlined that it was not a question of possibility as coronavirus cases will continue to be reported over the coming months. It is important to continue detecting the cases as early as possible and to treat them effectively, Dr Azzopardi-Muscat underlined.

Dr Azzopardi-Muscat remarked that the measures which were applicable to those individuals which are considered to be vulnerable remain in place. She noted that specific measures are needed to safeguard children and educators deemed to be vulnerable.

On Saturday, the Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers said that vulnerable educators are not to go to school and they should remain home and be available to work online. The directives were issued in view of the surge in coronavirus cases.

The guidelines are being done in collaboration with UNICEF and UNESCO, with the director noting that the coronavirus pandemic impacts all aspects of life and therefore requires a holistic approach.

She also spoke about the need to involve students in the decision-making process in order to implement the guidelines successfully and for them to feel part of the new reality.

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