COVID19: Testing at high schools begin, parents wary

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Some 27 mobile COVID-19 rapid testing units were deployed at state and private high schools on Thursday, as the Health Ministry plans to test all students weekly before they can begin lessons, but many parents disagree.

Following the return of lyceum and technical school students on Monday, the ministry issued a decree obliging all students aged over 12 to undergo a coronavirus test to be allowed back into classrooms.

All teachers and students are obligated to get tested weekly.

The ministry said teachers and students could also choose to get tested at one of the many testing stations operating daily in all districts.

Mobile units are visiting schools on Thursday and Friday, repeating their rounds from 10 to March 12. The mobile units will include gymnasiums from 15-19 March.

First- and second-year Lyceum students went back on Monday as Cyprus entered a third stage of exiting lockdown after elementary school students returned on February 8.

The Ministry of Education announced that gymnasium students could return to class on March 16, later than planned (March 8).

Students returning on March 16 will need to test negative before returning to school.

The Education Ministry said a schedule was sent to the schools and the consent form given to pupils for their parents or legal guardians to sign.

The Health Ministry argued that regular screening of school staff and students reduces the possibility of spreading the virus, making schools a COVID-safe environment.

The move comes after a spike in COVID-19 cases, and clusters were found at schools in recent days.

The ministry’s pleas have fallen on deaf ears, as many parents have already said they will not give their consent to regular testing.

Parents who disagree with mandatory testing have already conveyed to school heads they will pursue legal action or report the issue to police if the schools insist on the weekly rapid tests.

Isotita labour union representing the self-employed and contract civil servants sent a formal complaint to the Commissioner for Children Rights.

It claims that, if for some reason, children under 15 cannot take a weekly test, parents would have to stay home to take care of them or face the consequences of leaving a child unattended.

“So, without introducing ways to facilitate parents, essentially the right of choice is being crushed, as indirectly but clearly the parents are forced to consent to the children getting tested for COVID,” the announcement states.

The union also expressed concerns that students choosing, for whatever reason, not take the test, medical or other, will not receive the same level of education their fellow students will.

Isotita is alarmed over a proposal made by teacher unions that students not getting tested will be sent home and marked as absent, with the risk of missing the year.