Schools Across Europe Forge Ahead With Reopening Despite Coronavirus Surge

Novel coronavirus cases in Europe continue to rise, with over 1.7 million confirmed reported in the European Union/European Economic Area and the U.K., according to the latest report Friday from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Despite fears of a potential second wave of the outbreak in Europe, schools in the U.K., Spain, France and Germany are all set to reopen as usual in the late summer/early fall.

While the U.K. has outlined some contingency plans for local outbreaks, all four nations have yet to reveal any response measures in the event of a second wave of the virus, despite the recent spikes seen in all four countries.

U.K.

Among the top 20 countries most affected by the outbreak, the U.K. currently has the most deaths per 100,000, as well as the most deaths per 100 confirmed cases.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in the country has also been rising from around July 11.

Following a recent spike in parts of the country, the government announced additional restrictions in local areas, including the North of England, the city of Leicester in the East Midlands region and Luton area in the southeast of England.

Speaking to Newsweek, a spokesperson for the U.K. Department for Education, confirmed: "We expect schools to fully open from the start of the autumn term, including in the areas impacted by the temporary restrictions announced last night [Thursday]."

Earlier this week, the department issued detailed guidelines for the reopening of schools, which included contingency plans for outbreaks on a local level. "If a local area sees a spike in infection rates that is resulting in localized community spread, appropriate authorities will decide which measures to implement to help contain the spread," the guidance said.

"The Department for Education will be involved in decisions at a local and national level affecting a geographical area, and will support appropriate authorities and individual settings to follow the health advice. We will provide more information on this process in due course," it advised.

The department also noted should there be a local outbreak, schools may be advised to close temporarily in a bid to contain the outbreak. "Schools will also need a contingency plan for this eventuality. This may involve a return to remaining open only for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, and providing remote education for all other pupils," the department noted.

The deputy general secretary of the U.K.'s National Education Union (NEU), Avis Gilmore, told press: "Government needs a Plan B in the event that its guidance does not work or if cases are higher by the time we get to September. We have repeatedly urged for a Plan B to be put in place."

In a statement issued Friday, the NEU called for teachers to have the right to wear face coverings in school, which Public Health England, the country's health authority, does not deem to be necessary. The union raised concerns over the government's "lack of consistency with guidance on other public places," Gilmore said in the statement.

France

France has seen a 70 percent increase, fortnight-on-fortnight, in total new cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest report Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has been mostly spiking from early June.

Earlier this month, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said that while "the coronavirus is still here [in France]," there are no plans to "impose a lockdown like the one we did last March, because we've learned...that the economic and human consequences from a total lockdown are disastrous."

"My aim is to prepare France for a possible second wave while preserving our daily life, our economic and social life."

Daily social life would include a return to schools, which began gradually reopening in May. About a third of children in France went back to school around May 18. About 40,000 pre-schools and primary schools reopened with each class limited to 15 students.

Strasbourg school France June 2020
A teacher gives a lesson to pupils at a school in Strasbourg in eastern France, as primary and middle schools reopened in France on June 22, 2020. Getty Images

But the return was followed by an outbreak of 70 new infections linked to several schools, which were closed immediately by French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

In late June, more students headed back to school following an announcement from French President Emmanuel Macron who said the return was mandatory.

The return came with the easing of safety measures initially implemented at schools, including the lifting of social distancing rules for children in kindergarten. Primary school students were recommended to maintain a one-meter social distance, while those in middle schools were required to wear face coverings when social distancing was impossible.

A spokesperson for the French government urged parents at the time to "have confidence" in schools. "Everything is being done so that their children will be welcomed safely," she said.

Spain

Spain has seen a 171 percent spike fortnight-on-fortnight in total new cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days.

The country's seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has also been sharply rising from around July 8.

Last month, the government of Spain issued updated guidance for the reopening of schools this September.

The social distancing requirement was reduced from 2 meters (6.5 feet) to 1.5 meters, while those aged 10 and younger will not be required to social distance or wear a mask in school. Older children will be asked to wear face coverings only when the 1.5-meter distance cannot be maintained.

The recommended class capacity was set at 15 but classes could be as large as 20. Class capacities for older students can be 15 or larger if there is space available at the schools.

Teachers will be expected to make use of all available areas throughout the school, from sports halls and libraries to cafeterias, to ensure the latest safety guidelines can be met.

Any areas used for classes will need to be ventilated after each use. The windows in classrooms will need to remain open as long as possible throughout the day.

Schools should be disinfected and cleaned at least once a day, while bathrooms should be cleaned three times a day, the government advised.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and European Union.

COVID-19 cases in U.S. vs EU
The seven-day rolling averages of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and European Union. Getty Images

Germany

New infections reported per 100,000 people in Germany in the past 14 days marked a 35 percent jump from the number reported in the 14 days prior, according to the latest WHO report Friday.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has also been spiking from around July 8.

The country reported 902 new infections on Thursday, according to the latest report from The Robert Koch Institute, Germany's federal health agency.

The report said: "In the past few weeks, the number of districts that have not reported any COVID-19 cases over a period of seven days has decreased clearly. In parallel, the COVID-19 incidence has risen in many federal states. This trend is concerning."

But schools in Germany began reopening in May and are expected to resume normal operations after the summer.

Social distancing measures, as well as a requirement for face coverings in shops and on public transport, are also expected to remain in place.

Earlier this month, a new study in the German state of Saxony suggested schools may not pose as big a risk in spreading the virus as feared by some, after very few of the 2,000 children and teachers in the study were shown to have antibodies to COVID-19.

The education minister of Saxony, Christian Piwarz, noted the study indicated schools in the state can resume normally following the summer break at the end of August with restrictions in place, such as wearing masks and social distancing where possible, Reuters reported.

Newsweek has contacted the Spanish Ministry of Education, Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the press office of the French government for comment.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the daily COVID-19 death toll in the U.S.

U.S. Coronavirus Deaths
Daily new reported deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. STATISTA

More than 17.3 million people across the globe have been infected since the virus was first reported in Wuhan, China, including over 4.4 million in the U.S. Over 10.1 million globally have reportedly recovered from infection, while over 674,000 have died, as of Friday, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates U.S. states with more than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past week.

U.S. states in the Red Zone COVID-19
U.S. states reporting more than 100 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past week. STATISTA
Schools Across Europe Forge Ahead With Reopening Despite Coronavirus Surge | News