The reopening of schools in Belgium after the extended autumn break on Monday is a priority but it is not without risks, health officials said during a press conference on Friday.
"The reopening of the schools is a priority, both for politics and society," said virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht. "However, it is not without risks."
"A lot of children and a lot of teachers will be going back to school. This could have an impact on the figures. We will be able to measure this, about two weeks after the reopening," he said, adding that it is
After considering the risks, the decision is the result of a trade-off between costs and benefits, according to Van Gucht.
On Tuesday 10 November, both the Francophone and the Flemish ministries of education said pupils would go back to the classroom after the holiday as planned, and Belgium's Consultative Committee confirmed the decision on Friday.
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The confirmation follows news that children are more susceptible to catching the coronavirus than initially thought, according to results from a small-scale Sciensano study.
The risks children had of becoming infected were higher if they lived in an area where the virus was widely circulating and if they had close contact with someone who was infected, typically within their family.
However, the number of infections has decreased a great deal across the entire country, which will have an impact on the situations in schools as well, according to Van Gucht.
"What we have seen so far is that schools are not a driving force behind the epidemic, but reflect what is happening in the general population," he said.
If a lot of virus is circulating in the population, the number of infections among teacher and pupils will naturally be higher, but "we have seen few outbreaks that started in the schools themselves, relatively speaking," Van Gucht said.
Additionally, the protocols have been tightened a little, with pupils in second and third grade (14 to 18 years old) only being physically present at school half-time.
"The situation will be monitored closely to detect all possible infections, isolate sick children and quarantine high-risk contacts," he added.
"However, [the reopening] is not without risk, that is true, even with all the strategies in place," said Van Gucht. "We will be able to measure the effect very closely, because the opening will essentially be the only major change that will take place soon."
The Brussels Times