Following the decision to relax the quarantine policy for the general population, Belgium is now also relaxing the quarantine measures for pupils in schools, the Corona Commission announced on Wednesday evening.
As the education sector fears that it will not be able to keep up with testing and tracing high-risk contacts if infections in schools will rise as fast as in the general population due to the Omicron variant, the country’s various Education and Health Ministers agreed to adjust the current rules.
“One of the main goals of these measures is to keep schools open in safe health conditions. Children, pupils and teachers must be able to go to classes,” the Interministerial Conference (IMC) on Public Health said in a press release.
In primary and nursery schools, a class (pupils and teachers) must go into quarantine as soon as 25% of the class or four pupils (instead of two) are infected. The quarantine period will also be shortened from seven days to only five days.
When face masks are used systematically and correctly in well-ventilated classes in primary school, the children in that class are considered low-risk contacts. In well-ventilated classrooms in nursery school, children are also considered as low-risk contacts.
Additionally, when a high-risk contact has taken place outside the classroom, and a child has to go into quarantine as a result, that child is allowed to leave quarantine to go to school.
“We are relaxing the rules because these children have not had the chance to be vaccinated and it is their parents’ choice. They shouldn’t have to suffer for that,” Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts told VRT.
Secondary schools will follow the same rules as those that were announced for the general population on Tuesday.
In practice, this means that fully vaccinated pupils who received their last shot of the “basic vaccination” up to five months ago will no longer have to quarantine following a high-risk contact. They do not have to undergo a PCR test either.
Partially vaccinated pupils or those who received their last dose more than five months ago must quarantine for seven days following a high-risk contact. However, they may leave quarantine after four days if they take a daily self-test with a negative result until day 7. A PCR test to end quarantine is no longer needed.
For unvaccinated pupils, the rules remain the same: they will have to quarantine for ten days. However, they are allowed to leave quarantine after seven days if they take daily self-tests with a negative result until day 10 and strictly apply all preventive measures.
Parents should ‘do their bit’
“To me, it seems obvious that when we relax the rules in the rest of society, we also do so in the sectors that are our priorities in the first place: our schools,” said Weyts. “Easing rules always holds risks, but schools are a controlled environment with strict measures. We make sure that schools are a safe environment.”
At the same time, Weyts also calls on parents to “do their bit” to keep the schools open as much as possible. “They can do this by, for example, (self)testing their children once a week. They can start before Monday, so that we can send the children to school with peace of mind.”
The measures will take effect from 10 January and last until the carnival break (Monday 28 February to Sunday 6 March). At the end of January, an interim assessment will be made because a large group of 5-to-11-year-olds will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated by then.