New figures show that the infection rates in schools already started dropping in the last two weeks before the extended Christmas holidays. Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts cited this drop as reason not to close schools again.
In the two weeks between 6 and 19 December, infections fell by 43% (17,226 fewer infections) among pupils and by 57% (4,658 fewer infections) among staff members compared to the previous reporting period.
In practice, this means that the figures were already falling in the weeks before the cooling-off period for primary education, which saw the Christmas holidays brought forward by a week.
“It also seems that the stricter measures in broad society at large have had the intended effect on our education system,” Weyts said in a press release on Wednesday.
“In the future, we should be even more reluctant to close all schools. Schools should be the last place where you turn off the lights,” he added. “It was the right decision to keep schools open in the first half of December. It is also the right decision to reopen schools on 10 January.”
Today’s Consultative Committee
The priority of today’s Consultative Committee has been made clear by several ministers: after the extended Christmas break, all nursery, primary and secondary schools must be able to reopen on 10 January.
“Everyone agrees that we should keep the schools open as long as possible,” virologist Marc Van Ranst told De Morgen in response to the figures. “On the other hand, we also have to say that if we had closed the schools a little earlier, the numbers might have been even lower than they are now.”
He also pointed out that Weyts failed to mention the face mask obligation – which now applies to pupils of all ages and also prevents school infections. “The minister was not a fan of measures in schools, yet they were necessary.”
The Consultative Committee starts meeting at 2:00 PM this afternoon and will hold a press conference to announce its latest decisions afterwards. An overview of what is expected to be discussed can be found here.