Govt delays schools re-opening until February 22
The Gibraltar Government has delayed the reopening of schools for a further three weeks until February 22 to allow time for the over-60s and those at risk to have as much immunity as possible.
Although it believes the children and teachers would be safe if schools were to open on Monday as initially planned, the Government said it cannot be sure of the effect this would have on the wider community.
The Government also recognised the return of children to school will produce “a potential vector of infections” in that it is a “huge congregation of persons.”
It added that pupils and staff will likely expose those at risk when they return home or move about the community outside of the school environment.
Presently, around 70 school-age children are currently positive for Covid-19, and a total of 136 schoolchildren have been infected with the virus so far this month, despite schools being closed.
This decision to push back the opening of schools comes from advice received from senior health professionals, including the Director of Public Health.
The Government said it regrets to keep schools closed but the school population is not as yet vaccinated, and the vaccines are not yet approved for under-16s except in exceptional cases.
“It remains a large potential source of cross-infection, so that opening them is not considered prudent at this time,” the Government said.
“Cross infection could lead to a resurgence within the community before the vaccination programme is completed and could then lead to the need to close schools again or to further intensify lockdown measures again.”
“The Government wishes to avoid these possibilities as much as possible.”
Minister for Education, Dr John Cortes, said that although he recognises children want to return to school, “this decision is about the safety of the elderly and the vulnerable in our community.”
“This has been the most difficult of decisions,” Dr Cortes said.
“I really want our children back at school. They are missing the engagement, the contact with friends, and all their activities. And I am of course aware of the pressures that having the children at home, working on the online learning for many hours, brings to our households. So it’s been very hard.”
“But the Health professionals tell us clearly that it would be best to wait these three more weeks, and we must to listen to them. I am satisfied that if we had opened our schools our teachers and our children would be safe in the schools, as our health and ERS professionals, and our other frontliners are and have been safe. But this decision is about the safety of the elderly and the vulnerable in our community and how we ensure they have the maximum possible level of protection by the time we reopen the schools.”
The Government added it is aware of the pressure on children and on families to cope with the work at home, and on the effects of prolonged relative isolation on the young.
“On balance, and based totally on health and Public Health advice, it is considered that it is nevertheless the only real option if we are to avoid the risks that would otherwise arise for our elderly and vulnerable to be at risk.”
“The provision of facilities for the children of St Martin’s School will continue and be enhanced as much as possible.”
“Also, given that it is anticipated that other elements of the current lockdown measures will be relaxed in coming days, children will of course be able to leave the confines of home.”
The decision to keep schools closed comes after a great deal of deliberation with the Department of Education and with the teaching profession, both senior teams in the schools and the representatives of teachers in the NASUWT.
The education programme will continue online for the next two weeks, with the schools opening one week later after the spring mid-term.
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