Closing all schools is ‘out of the question’, says Education Minister
Thursday, 12 March 2020
All schools should be closed in the near future to contain the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19), according to many Belgian doctors, but Flemish Minister for Education Ben Weyts said that it is “out of the question.”
By delaying any further, there is a chance that “our health system will be disrupted” by the coronavirus. “For weeks, Belgium has had the opportunity to anticipate the corona-crisis but failed to take decisive action. Recommendations and non-binding advice are not enough,” said the Belgian Association of Doctors Syndicates (ABSyM) to De Standaard.
The doctors want to see all schools closed “better today than tomorrow,” they said. “At the very least, there must be a plan in place to announce a closure in the short term.”
Additionally, other places where children gather in large numbers, such as amusement parks, should also close, and all meetings with at least 100 people should be cancelled, they advise.
However, closing schools is a controversial measure among experts, as it is not entirely clear to what extent the measure could help to curb the spread of the virus. In addition to that, it is feared that often, the grandparents, who belong to a high-risk group, will have to look after the children when they cannot go to school.
“We continue to follow the same advice and keep listening to the experts in public health, who are not asking to close the schools,” said Ben Weyts, Flemish Minister for Education, to De Tijd, adding that closure is “out of the question.”
Closing the schools is “the last draconian measure,” according to Weyts. “Do not forget that there will also be an impact on health care: nurses and doctors also have children,” he added.
Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon stated before the start of the National Security Council on the outbreak of the coronavirus on Thursday evening that for him too, closing schools is not a necessary measure at the moment.
Other countries, such as Italy, Ireland, Norway and Lithuania, have decided to close their schools and universities until the end of March, as the authorities want to contain the spread of the virus as much as possible.
In Belgium, the municipality of Knokke-Heist, in the East-Flanders province, was the first to decide to temporarily close its schools from Monday. The deans of all Francophone universities have jointly decided to stop giving classes from Monday until at least the end of the Easter holidays, and are switching completely to online classes.