ATHENS – Education Minister Niki Kerameus said reopening Greece’s schools allowed the detection of COVID-19 cases but tests to find them were seen likely bringing a record number on the back of the Omicron Variant.
Schools opened on Jan. 10 after a holiday break although there was worry from the New Democracy government’s advisory panel of doctors and scientists, but Kerameus said it was safer to have students, teachers and staff in a controlled environment with three weekly tests for the Coronavirus.
There were more than 15,500 cases recorded among pupils and teachers that she said wouldn’t have been found unless they returned to classrooms.
“Schools opened with more tests in both unvaccinated and vaccinated pupils and teachers, following the enhanced protocols decided by the experts’ committee,” Kerameus told TV station Ant1.
“One can see the importance of school operation also for health reasons, because if they had not opened we would not have detected those cases,” she said in defense of the move although opposition parties and some health officials objected to the reopening and wanted a delay.
Kerameus added that 5,000 substitute teachers will be hired “immediately” to replace those who were infected as reports of shortages in a number of civil service sectors and public safety were said to be manageable.
“Online education will take place whenever a class has to suspend person-to-person instruction. It has happened in the past, it could happen again and will also happen in Florina (hit by an earthquake.) But in no way can online instruction replace person-to-person education,” she said.
Kerameus said that no classes were shut down over COVID infections and that any determination would be made on the basis of self-tests after the government said none would be closed.
New infections are expected to climb to another record with reports on Jan. 11 as health officials will include positive self tests confirmed after the reopening of schools, a medical expert said.
“Things are not easy,” Nikolaos Tzanakis, a respiratory disease specialist and Vice-President of the Hellenic Thoracic Society, told SKAI TV, saying he expects it could reach or surpass 50,000 for a 24-hour period.
If 600,000 tests are performed and the positivity rate reaches 9 percent, then new cases will be close to 54,000, while if the rate is closer to 8 percent, the new infections will be below 50,000, he added.
He said his team’s model estimates that the highly-contagious but less deadly Omicron Variant will peak between Jan. 20-25 but that depends on the aftermath of the holiday period that didn’t see restrictions brought until late.
Young people under 18 years of age do not have to get a booster shot unless they suffer from reduced immunity due to medication or an illness, the head of the National Vaccination Committee, Maria Theodoridou, said.
During a regular briefing, Theodoridou said that children and teenagers who get COVID should be immunized in three months. If they have already had one dose before getting sick, they do not need to get vaccinated again, the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (AMNA) said.
She also said that the Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) that shows up 2 or 6 weeks after a young person contracts the coronavirus can be prevented with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine while vaccination prevents the appearance of diabetes, seen in children under 18 who get he virus.