Belgium’s various education partners met on Wednesday to discuss additional measures to implement in schools as the coronavirus situation worsens in Belgium.
Children under 12 cannot be vaccinated, but often have many contacts, resulting in various schools facing the worst Covid-19 outbreaks they have faced so far, according to Stefan Grielens, general manager of the Vrij CLB Netwerk.
However, Grielens is not a fan of the suggestion made by biostatistician Geert Molenberghs and Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke to reintroduce face masks in primary schools, as research has shown this could have a negative impact on the development of language skills.
Yet, partners in the French-speaking education system – in Belgium, education is a competency of the language communities – decided on Wednesday that as of Monday 8 November, face masks will once again be mandatory in secondary schools when pupils are sitting, as is already the case in Brussels.
In nursery and primary schools, children will not have to wear face masks, however, teachers will have to wear them at all times.
Katholiek Onderwijs Vlaanderen, the umbrella organisation for education in Flanders, is expected to announce any new measures later on Wednesday.
‘Don’t quarantine children’
Meanwhile, Grielens, as well as Katholiek Onderwijs Vlaanderen, are arguing for the quarantine rules in primary schools to be further relaxed, as they said the situation in primary education “is no longer tenable.”
These rules were recently relaxed and now state that children under the age of 12 can leave quarantine immediately following a negative PCR test on day 1.
However, if two infections occur within a period of one week in a class or group without a link outside the class, the entire group is considered a high-risk contact, meaning all pupils have to quarantine.
“What exactly is the risk of children becoming infected? The infection rates among children are rising, but there are hardly any symptoms of disease,” Lieven Boeven, the organisation’s head, said.
“Before we place another bell jar over our education system, we must above all ensure that they cannot infect vulnerable or unvaccinated people, and for that, we need measures in society at large,” he added.
According to Katholiek Onderwijs Vlaanderen, however, the real solution is to vaccinate children as quickly as possible, which virologist Steven Van Gucht agrees with.
“I think it would be good that the possibility is there and that parents can decide to have their child vaccinated,” he said.