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Education minister makes Covid rules stricter

Change of plan: Diallo Robain, the minister of education, at Wednesday’s press conference (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Government is to tighten Covid-19 safety rules in public schools – just 24 hours after it claimed that stricter regulations were not needed.

The announcement came after one public school – the Bermuda Institute – revealed tonight that it will be closed tomorrow because of a potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Diallo Rabain, the minister of education, on Wednesday said that Phase 3 safety measures – including mandatory mask wearing in class for most pupils – would be enforced when classes resume next week.

Mr Rabain told school principals yesterday that tougher measures under Phase 2 were required – because the island’s transmission status had moved from “sporadic cases” to “clusters of cases”.

Mr Rabain said the change was decided by the Ministry of Health and would come into force immediately.

Schools cannot hold assemblies, visitors are not allowed on school premises and field trips are banned. under Phase 2 safety rules.

A department of health document also warned that school closures – unlikely in Phase 3 – were possible under Phase 2.

Last night a health department spokeswoman said: “The ministry of education has advised that all schools are to use Phase 2 of school Covid-19 protocols effective immediately.”

Mr Rabain added: ““The Chief Medical Officer has informed the Ministry of Education that given the volume of active cases and the number that are not currently linked to travel or known clusters, that schools should move to Phase 2.”

The move marked an about-turn by the Government.

Mr Rabain insisted at a press conference on Wednesday that more stringent measures would not be necessary.

The Bermuda Institute, in Southampton, told parents that it would be closed tomorrow “because of a potential exposure to the coronavirus” which had affected several teaching staff.“

The e-mail said: “This will permit us to adequately clean the affected areas, as well as allow all students, faculty, and staff to be tested at the assigned times.

“Depending on the epidemiology and surveillance unit recommendations, the availability of teachers to teach in person may jeopardise our ability to have school in person.”

The announcement of mask-wearing was condemned by some parents, who argued that it should not be mandatory.

An online petition against mandatory masks in schools has gathered more than 600 signatures.

The Royal Gazette has received e-mails from several parents who said the policy was unnecessary.

One parent, who asked not to be named, said: “As a parent of a child affected, I do not know how anyone can claim this measure is necessary for children when adults are unmasked indoors in restaurants and offices every day and travelling liberally.

“Who is protecting whom? Government also wants the children to test weekly but parents must consent to that measure.”

The parent asked: “Which is more likely to prevent the virus spreading? Identifying cases of it with a highly sensitive test or keeping a spittle-soaked mask on an eight-year-old all day with no defined metric of when you might stop this unproven intervention?”

Another parent accused the Government of “taking the easy option by targeting our youth”.

He said: “While the Covid situation is variable around the globe, the single constant is that children under 12 everywhere are unvaccinated.

“Therefore, what is the prevailing difference between Bermuda and other countries that warrants such a hard line approach here when it comes to kids?

“It is the big elephant in the room that the government isn’t willing to admit for fear of losing an irrecoverable amount of political support – vaccine hesitancy.”

The father added: “Under-12s are being asked to make sacrifices to protect adults who are unwilling to follow the science and protect themselves.

“The Government has tried to claim that under-12s are more vulnerable because they are unvaccinated. The reality is that kids this young are highly unlikely to get seriously ill from the virus so it is really their unvaccinated adult contacts that are more vulnerable.”

He said: “It’s time to follow the lead of countries in Europe and start prioritising our children’s well being.

“Lord knows, we spent long enough making sacrifices for the elderly – it’s time we began to think about the kids.

“And it’s high time that the selfish adults who won’t get vaccinated and who the children are silently protecting, took some responsibility and got vaccinated.”

But private school head teachers backed the Government’s precautions and said they would adopt similar measures.

Warwick Academy and Saltus Grammar confirmed they would adopt the same safety rules public schools were asked to follow.

Bermuda High School said it was “closely following the directives from the department of health”.

Linda Parker, the school principal, said: “As a school, we wish to return to some semblance of educational normalcy for our students, whilst keeping everyone safe and in school.

“After the disruption of the last 18 months, students need to have a face to face, in-person learning experience.

“For their own wellbeing, children need to be in school with their friends and have opportunities to participate in sports and creative activities.

“Our hope is that with these protocols in place, we will be able to make the 2021-2022 school year a successful and healthy one for everyone at BHS.”

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Published September 03, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated September 03, 2021 at 8:00 am)

Education minister makes Covid rules stricter

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