Primary and secondary schools in the Netherlands will reopen on Monday 10 January, the Dutch Government has decided.
Last month, Dutch schools closed a week earlier than planned due to the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant. Currently, a strict lockdown is still in force in the country.
“The Outbreak Management Team (OMT) sees that the infections have declined among the youngest,” Dutch Education Minister Arie Slob told public broadcaster NOS. The government is following the advice of the OMT, which has ruled that the reopening of education is justified if safety measures remain in place, such as preventive testing.
For secondary vocational education and higher education (such as universities), online teaching will remain in place with the situation reassessed on 14 January.
The situation in Belgium
After coronavirus infections in Belgium decreased sharply for a while, the Omicron variant has now started pushing up the Covid-19 figures just as the schools prepare to reopen after an extended Christmas break.
“There is a great deal of concern among paediatricians about Omicron,” Tyl Jonckheer, paediatrician and coordinator of the Pediatric Covid-19 Task Force advising the government, told Het Nieuwsblad.
“Not for what the variant does to the health of the children, but for what Omicron means for keeping schools open. Right now, we are all still discussing this important issue.”
Earlier on Monday, virologist Marc Van Ranst told local media that the question of reopening schools should be carefully considered on 10 January in light of the rapid increase in infections. “But to be clear, the default option is for the schools to open as planned.”
“Every day we look at the figures, knowing that because of the holidays there is less testing than usual,” he said. “We are also looking at the situation in Denmark and the UK. At the moment I think that with the measures that were in place before the holidays we can open normally.”
In the meantime, figures from the United States and South Africa indicate that more children with Covid-19 are being hospitalised than in previous waves. However, there is currently no indication that Omicron is affecting them more severely.
“In places where 1 in 10 people are infected with Omicron, 1 in 10 children hospitalised with a leg fracture will also be infected with Omicron. That gives a distorted picture,” Van Ranst said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”
Van Ranst asserts that the cooling-off week for education worked “without a doubt… The week before, the figures were a lot more serious and that week helped bring infections down.”
The Consultative Committee will meet to discuss all the current measures, including for schools, on Thursday 6 January. A week later, another meeting is planned to look into the long-term management strategy and the much-discussed coronavirus barometer.