COVID19: Cyprus students return to class as concern lingers

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Some 10,000 final year high school students returned to class on Monday under strict health guidelines after staying home for two months due to the COVID-19 Cyprus lockdown.

The rest of the school years are to return to class on 21 May but parents, teachers and students are not convinced it is the right move.

Students were back at school under strict health protocols, with Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou visiting two high schools in Nicosia to inspect the implementation of measures.

Each class is divided into two groups with a maximum of 12 students, who will be going to school on different days.

One group will be going to school on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the second group on Tuesday and Thursday.

The groups are to switch days the following week. The first group of students who went to school on Monday from 07:30 and will finish the day at 11:30 p.m.

Although back to familiar surroundings, students will have to follow an unfamiliar code of conduct.

Hugs, close contacts, sharing objects are explicitly forbidden, while canteens will not be open, so students and teachers are asked to bring food and water from home.

Special arrangements were made for breaks so that students will not mingle in schoolyards, while the use of antiseptic and meticulous hand washing is mandatory.

Teachers have expressed grave concerns over schools reopening, with secondary school teacher union OELMEK describing the government’s decision on final year high school students as a “great and unnecessary risk”.

The parent’s confederation of secondary schools also expressed concern for the health and safety of students.

With all students to return to classrooms on 21 May, the concern is growing.

Αn online survey carried out by Politis newspaper suggests that while almost 80% of people agreed with the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, only 39% said the decision to reopen schools correct.

According to the government’s plans, the reopening of all schools and kindergartens is set for May 21 but President Nicos Anastasiades said implementation of any decisions will depend entirely on epidemiological indicators and recommendations of the scientific team.

The government found itself in a bit of a tight spot last week when government advisor Dr Leontios Kostrikis said he was “surprised” that the government said it would open schools on 21 May as this was not put forward by the experts.

Other members of the advisory team have expressed their confidence that schools can reopen on 21 May.