As Belgium’s education and health ministers have been meeting nearly all of Wednesday to try to find an agreement on relaxing schools’ quarantine policy by requiring more self-tests, many families are worried about the increased cost this would entail.
The current rules state that classes have to be closed as soon as four pupils have tested positive for Covid-19, which results in many parents having to puzzle over how to provide care for their children while continuing to work themselves.
“My daughter has not been able to go to school for six weeks. Not only do I worry about her learning deficit, but combining quarantine with teleworking is extremely tiring,” one parent testified in an open letter from the Family Union. “We have had it.”
Fortunately, consultation is taking place between Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts and the education partners about the “untenable situation,” the union said.
While the ministers have been meeting since Wednesday morning, an agreement has yet to be reached, reportedly due to issues with the self-tests. However, Weyts’ cabinet is hoping an agreement can still be reached tonight.
Currently, 102 schools in Flanders are closed completely, Weyts said in the Flemish Parliament on Wednesday afternoon. It concerns 35 primary schools and 67 secondary schools. Last week, there were still 19.
“The schools have to shut because safety is at stake: too many infections, but also because the quality of education is compromised,” he said.
However, nothing has been said about the cost of a possible new strategy that focuses on (self)tests instead of on quarantine, as virologist Steven Van Gucht and Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke proposed earlier this week.
‘Waste of time’
For many families, a weekly self-test for every child would entail a considerable extra cost. “To say that this is a matter of ‘just biting the bullet’ is downright hallucinatory. This cost should therefore not simply land on the shoulders of the parents,” the union said.
The organisation also has doubts about the effectiveness of the testing policy, particularly as “more and more critical voices are being raised about the substantial differences in the detection of the Omicron variant by a self-test and a PCR test.”
That is why the Family Union is asking the competent ministers to come up with a financial contribution linked to a clear testing strategy. “If not, these new quarantine rules will be a waste of time.”