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Education ministry revises return to school protocols

Four Covid-19 phases for school protocols have been drawn up by the Ministry of Education as pupils head back this month for their third academic year under the pandemic.

According to the revised criteria, shared internally last week, schools would be closed “imminently” under community transmission at Phase 1, while no closures would be ordered at Phase 4, with no new cases detected for at least 28 days.

As of last night’s Covid-19 update, the island’s status stood at “sporadic cases” of the virus — but the Ministry of Health warned that medical data could put the island at community transmission.

Details on back-to-school protocols and saliva testing will be made public today at a joint education and health press conference scheduled for 11am.

The protocols, drawn up on August 25, noted rising numbers of cases in the community, including the Delta strain of the virus, which “appears to be affecting children more than the previous variants”.

The Government has not yet announced the protocols expected for the return to school, but the document said they would be assessed regularly according to “outbreaks in the community and vaccination status of staff and students”.

Lockdowns and other restrictions curtailed many regular school days from March 2020, and again in the 2020-21 school year as the island’s cases rose.

Under the revised four-tier protocols, Phase 2 would come into effect with “clusters or outbreaks of cases”, while Phase 3 is set for “imported/sporadic cases”.

School and classroom closures are deemed “possible” at Phase 2, but “unlikely” at Phase 3.

Parent and visitor entry to schools is allowed only in the third and fourth phases, and printed evidence of a SafeKey is required in both cases.

A Covid-19 questionnaire is mandatory for all forms of school entry under Phases 1 and 2.

In-class examinations are permitted in all phases, although the top two do not allow the use of large rooms such as school halls.

But, regardless of the island’s status, a host of restrictions to keep the virus in check will remain in effect across all phases.

Temperature checks, monitoring of symptoms and hand hygiene are required across the board for school entry.

Masks must be worn by staff when indoors, and outdoors when less than six feet from others.

Desks are to be spaced three feet apart in all cases, with pupils unable to share belongings, and ground markers are to be used for lining up both indoors and outdoors.

At Phase 1, masks must be worn indoors at all times by students from P1 up – but the requirement relaxes to years P4 and up for all other categories.

The mask protocol changes for younger children because they are under 12, cannot be vaccinated and are thus deemed more vulnerable.

Outdoor play is subject to bubble-based planning restrictions under Phases 1, 2 and 3.

But at Phase 4, when the infection risk for the population is deemed to be near zero, outdoor play can resume.

Risk assessments are to be conducted by school nurses and/or Department of Health staff when there is at least one positive case in a school, or connected to a school.

To read the Ministry of Education Covid-19 Phases for School Protocols in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”

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Published September 01, 2021 at 1:28 pm (Updated September 01, 2021 at 1:28 pm)

Education ministry revises return to school protocols

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