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Schools could be step closer to normal next week, says minister

Relaxing the rules: Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education (File photograph)

Covid-19 safety precautions in public schools could be relaxed as early as next week, the Minister of Education said yesterday.

Diallo Rabain gave few details of planned changes, but promised he would release more information in the House of Assembly on Friday.

But he added that controversial all-day mask wearing rules in schools would be revised “soon”.

Mr Rabain said that quarantine regulations for close contacts of infected pupils would also be relaxed – from ten days to seven, in line with requirements for adults.

He added: “We’re looking at ways to have fewer students having to quarantine as a result of being a close contact.

“We’re looking at the majority of students remaining in class, even if they’ve been considered close contacts, with the use of antigen testing on a daily basis.”

Mr Rabain highlighted that relaxation of the regulations would be linked to the rates of participation in voluntary at-home antigen tests.

He said: “It is not mandatory, it is recommended, so, while we do issue the tests out, what we do is look at the percentage of persons who are putting their results in and different freedoms that we want to give to schools will be tied to percentages of student population.

“If the bulk of the school is not participating in the screening programme, unfortunately some of those things that we want to put in place will have to be curtailed because it’s about keeping our schools safe.

“If the majority of schools are participating, that means we have a good idea that the majority of schools are negative and then we can start having things like less mask-wearing.”

Mr Rabain ruled out the replacement of mandatory PCR tests for pupils who returned from school holidays with the more convenient at-home antigen tests.

He explained that the response to voluntary at-home twice a week antigen tests, introduced last month, had been lukewarm with just over half of pupils taking part.

Mr Rabain said the scheme was being reviewed to see how it could be improved.

He added: “Participation has not been at the level as it was with the saliva screening programme, with a participation rate of approximately 57 per cent across all staff and students submitting forms bi-weekly.

“We need those families who are not reporting to do so to ensure the safety of everyone.”

But he said there was a higher take-up of vaccinations and antigen testing in private schools.

Mr Rabain said: “In our public schools, unfortunately, we’re just not seeing the people taking up those precautions.”

Mr Rabain admitted there had been criticism of the PCR test policy from parents, but that the education authorities had a duty to keep people safe.

Preschools and primary school pupils are scheduled to test at Bermuda College at the weekend for a return to classroom teaching next Monday after the midterm break.

Middle school pupils will be tested at the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory in Warwick next Monday and return to school on Tuesday.

Senior schools will have remote learning next Monday, take the tests on Tuesday, and return to their classrooms on Wednesday.

Mr Rabain added preschools and primary schools would return to weekly saliva screening from next week.

He added: “The current antigen online form is being revamped and retooled to be more efficient and allow for critical participation date to be more quickly analysed.

“PR campaigns around the need to participate and reminders to submit results are being developed.”

Mr Rabain said he aimed to strike a balance between the protection of school staff and pupils and keeping classrooms open.

He added: “While the decisions may be difficult, it remains my intention and the intention of this government to provide a safe experience for our students and staff.

Mr Rabain said he wanted pupils to return to normal activities, such as sports days, field trips and graduations as fast as possible.

He promised the activities would “be returning soon – along with revised mask-wearing guidelines”.

Mr Rabain said that Covid-19 was most often “a mild illness among children” but that it could still affect their long term health.

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Published February 17, 2022 at 7:59 am (Updated February 17, 2022 at 7:59 am)

Schools could be step closer to normal next week, says minister

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