ATHENS – Schools will reopen normally on Monday (January 10) following Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Education Minister Niki Kerameus and Health Minister Thanos Plevris said on Tuesday.
At a briefing, Kerameus said that updated protocols would ensure tighter checks at schools. “Nothing can replace the in-person operation of our schools. It is for the emotional and psychological development of our children, therefore it is important that they operate in their natural space, with their classmates and teachers,” the Education minister said.
New health measures include: a) an extra self test for the first week of classes (Jan. 10-15), or three self tests for the week instead of two, provided by pharmacies without charge, b) Vaccinated students and teachers must also do two self tests that week, instead of one, because of the high infection rates to those fully vaccinated as well, and c) in cases of an infection, the entire classroom will need to be tested, not just those sitting near the infected person.
In the last case, unvaccinated students will be obliged to test every day of the week (five days), with 2 rapid tests and 3 self tests, the latter provided free by pharmacies. The same holds true for unvaccinated teachers, who will also do 2 rapid tests and 3 self tests, the latter free of charge.
Kerameus said that a high rate of infections was expected on Jan. 10, based on experience with the first day of school after summer (Sept. 13). She added that schools provide a safe framework and that “children are safer in school than out of it.”
The obligatory use of masks in and out of classrooms and the suspension of school trips are still in effect, she said, adding that current measures at universities and vocational schools will remain as is.
Speaking on the coronavirus developments, Health Minister Plevris noted that the coronavirus Omicron variant is now dominant, taking over Delta, and that the government has reached an agreement with Greek private clinics that will offer at least 10%-15% of their plain beds for hospitalization of Covid infections.
In addition, he said a new Ministerial Decision to be published will allow a positive rapid test as adequate proof of infection for leave from work, instead of requiring a follow up with a PCR test.
The Health Ministry’s coronavirus experts committee will be reviewing data continuously, pediatrician Vana Papaevangelou said at the briefing, adding that “everything will be fine, based on what we have seen so far from open schools.”
Papaevangelou said that Greece already follows one of the most intensive and successful protocols internationally, as proven by the fact that there was little dispersal of the virus in schools during the fall. She also noted that 84% of infections in school-age children was identified through self tests, which allowed students without symptoms to be isolated from schools quickly.
The government decided not to require a rapid test before the schools open because it would be too expensive and there was not a sufficient mechanism to deal with 1.4 million students in only a few days, the paper said.
Under consideration is whether to close classes or schools if 30 percent of students are infected instead of 50 percent plus one, and the report said that private tutoring schools and universities are included in the measures.