Students are set to be segregated in ‘bubbles’ and those aged 3 and up will need to stock up on face masks in a bid to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 when schools reopen at the end of the month.
The measures were announced in a press conference held by the Education Ministry’s permanent secretary Frank Fabri and Superintendent for Public Health Charmaine Gauci at the Kirkop middle school.
Only children aged less than three are to be exempted from wearing face masks, with those aged 3-11 having to wear them in communal areas. Older students, as well as teachers, are to wear their masks at all times.
But to minimise the risk of transmission – though Gauci warned that zero risk was impossible – students are also to be segregated in bubbles: small groups which will study and enjoy breaks together whilst keeping their distance from others. Smaller class sizes are being sought, with desks kept 1.5m apart.
Body temperatures are to be checked on entry, and any students caught running a fever will be sent to a sick bay, and their parents or legal guardians asked to take them home.
Fabri notes that at present, the state holds the family liable in cases of school absenteeism. But whilst the need not to interrupt children's education is emphasised, the present circumstances must be taken into account.
Consequently, the aim is to ensure that children are not left to fall behind.
One's correspondent seeks to clarify whether vulnerable children can choose not to attend school.
Another question concerns the distance between desks. Gauci states that the health authorities' advice is to seek a 1.5m distance between desks.
But he emphasises that breakfast will not be stopped; instead a new system will be in place through which each student collects their prepared breakfast and eats it separately.
She also asked on LSEs who work with multiple students, and on school breakfasts, with Fabri acknowledging that measures needed to be implemented.
Newsbook's own correspondent asks whether school times will have to change, among other questions.
Discussions with the union are also ongoing on the size of classrooms, and various models are being examined.
He highlights that a lot of work was done without fanfare in recent months, insisting that the ministry could not claim credit alone for what had been done.
He highlights that discussions with the teachers' union are ongoing concerning remote learning.
Fabri is asked whether vulnerable children would be allowed to study remotely, and whether more teachers would be required to allow for smaller classes.
As Gauci had done, Fabri appeals for everyone to work together to ensure the reopening of schools is successful.
Alternatively, the class could correct homework together, with students following their teacher's direction.
Fabri was also asked on homework, noting that it would be handed out as normal. However, the submission of digital homework is encouraged.
But he adds that those who live more than 1.5km away from the school of their choice are encouraged to take the bus instead.
On school transport, he reiterates the importance of keeping the same bubbles.
He also asks why Minister Owen Bonnici did not attend the press conference, with Fabri replying that the aim was to have the technical staff highlight the new measures.
The NET correspondent questions the logistical arrangements behind school transport, highlighting that in many schools, students hailed from various localities.
Gauci highlights that should a Covid-19 case be reported, the authorities would immediately launch into action to determine anyone they may have been in contact. This is one reason why it was important for each school to have a liaison officer.
But Fabri notes that among other measures, schools will make use of any disused or underused rooms to reduce the size of classes.
A journalist highlights that school buildings are what they are, limiting what can be done to keep students apart.
Government policy concerning free school transport is being changed. The right to free transport would not be lost if children do not make use of it for a long time, with Fabri noting that in present circumstances, parents would be more inclined to take them to school personally.
Fabri also emphasises that parents whose children make use of school transport should check their children's temperature beforehand. He reminds that temperature checks will also take place in school.
In response to a question concerning secondary schools, Fabri highlights that it will be students – and not teachers – who will be tied to particular classrooms to limit the risk of 'bubbles' mixing together.
Government policy is to be amended with this in mind.
Concerning absenteeism, Fabri states that the emphasis is not on punishment, but on keeping parents informed.
But he also emphasises the need to ensure that children who stay at home are provided with the opportunity to do remote learning, pledging to strengthen existing practices.
Fabri highlights that the closure of school has seen children fall behind, highlighting the importance of the socialisation that took place in schools.
The TVM correspondent asks what would happen if parents refuse to send their children to school, questioning whether fines would be imposed, as well as on studies concerning education during the pandemic.
Gauci states that special guidelines are being drawn up for kindergarden.
With Gauci's explanation of the key measures now concluded, the journalists present start asking questions, with the first concerning vulnerable students or those living with vulnerable parents.
She emphasises the need for schools, children and parents alike to collaborate.
Once more, Gauci highlights the risk of Covid-19 being reported in schools. What was important was to detect them as early as possible.
The use of hand sanitiser is also enforced.
Students and drivers should also wear face masks at all times.
School transport journeys should be as small as possible, with the same groups travelling on each occasion. A record of those who use school transport should be kept.
Each school is to have a contact person, which the health authorities would speak to on matters related to Covid-19.
But staff and children older than 12 are to wear their face masks at all times.
Children under the age of 3 should not be made to wear masks. Those aged 3-11 should wear them when they are not in their desks or in instances where they could be in close contact with members of other 'bubbles.'
The public health chief moves on to the wearing of masks.
The composition of the groups should not be changed over time.
One important principle that has emerged, Gauci states, is that children need to be kept in 'bubbles.' Children should be segregated in small groups which are kept apart at all times to minimise the risk of transmission.
Gauci states that all efforts should be made to keep children apart from each other. With this in mind, class sizes should be as small as possible.
Any children found to be running a fever when they come to school will be segregated in a separate room, where they will wait until their parents can take them home.
She emphasises that students and staff alike should avoid school if they feel ill. Parents should ensure that their children are not running a fever or develop other symptoms that may indicate a Covid-19 infection.
But Gauci also warns that zero risk was impossible.
The measures aim to reduce the chance of Covid-19 transmission, she adds.
Prof. Gauci states that the authorities were following what was happening in countries which have already reopened their schools.
The government's policy on school attendance, he says, should reflect today's circumstances'
The guidelines governing the reopening of schools will be published in the coming hours, Fabri confirms.
He also recalls this week's virtual meeting involoving the World Health Organisation and EU health ministers, in which the WHO argued that not reopening schools would be detrimental to children.
Additionally, the government sought to draw on the experiences of other countries.
He states that various meetings have been held with stakeholders, including unions, parents and representatives of church and independent schools.
Fabri emphasises that it is important for children to return to school after such a long absence.
Fabri is being flanked by the Superintendent for Public Health, Charmaine Gauci.
However, it is expected that the measures that are to be implemented in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic will be announced.
The media was only informed that the conference – announced with less than an hour's notice – concerned the reopening of schools.
Good afternoon and welcome to our live blog. The press conference is expected to begin shortly.