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Schools, universities react to Covid case surge

Canton Schwyz, which has experienced an explosion in Covid cases after a suspected cluster at a yodeling concert, is among the cantons making masks mandatory for teachers and older pupils. Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

Mask-wearing will be obligatory for adults and older pupils in schools starting Wednesday in several more cantons, in reaction to the second wave of coronavirus cases. The University of Bern has already moved to expand distance-learning.

This content was published on October 22, 2020 - 06:40
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On Thursday, announcements were also made by canton Basel City and the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI).

Canton Schwyz, which has been particularly hard hit by the latest rise in cases – an apparent super-spreader event at a yodeling concert has put its main hospital under severe pressure – has extended mask-wearing in schools.

Beginning Wednesday, all secondary-level pupils (aged 12 and up) will have to wear face coverings in class.  Previously this rule applied only to those aged 15-16 and up (secondary 2) and teachers.

An increase in the number of Covid-19 cases among pupils at the secondary 1 level, as well as more absences due to quarantine, prompted the change, officials said. Wearing masks should stop entire classes from going into quarantine, the cantonal educational department added.

Appenzell Outer Rhodes, in central Switzerland, has also introduced mask-wearing for all secondary pupils. The aim of school authorities is to avoid school closures.

In the canton of St Gallen, there is a now recommendation for adults in primary schools to wear masks in all areas except classrooms, according to measures decided by the canton on Tuesday. Canton Basel Country has also upped masked wearing for both primary and secondary levels of school, and canton Basel City announced on Thursday that secondary schools pupils will have to wear masks in  in classrooms from Monday. Lucerne has also stepped up measures.

In Switzerland, cantons are in charge of educational matters, also during the pandemic. Nationwide measures – such as the school closures last spring – are exceptional.

Canton Zurich introduced masks for all adults in primary schools starting this past Monday. Various cantons already oblige older pupils to wear masks, but children under 12 are still generally exempt (the thinking being in Switzerland that they are not the main drivers of the pandemic).

On Wednesday Alain Berset, the Swiss government minister in charge of health, reiterated that as cantons were in charge of education, the government did not envisage intervening at present on schools.

Higher ed

Higher education is also affected. The University of Bern has decided to limit in-person, on-site courses to those with a highly interactive component, like seminars, tutorials and lab classes, starting this week. Big lectures are going back online, as are events in rooms with more than 120 seats.

However, at present it is the only university to take this kind of action. Institutions are prepared for all scenarios, said the rector of the University of Fribourg, Astrid Epiney - who is also the vice president of the umbrella organisation swissuniversities.

Many people are working from home - as recommended by the government - but some teaching needed to be done on site where possible, she told Swiss public television SRF. Nobody was being forced to come onto campus. she added. Universities had protection measures in force, Epiney said.

On Thursday the USI university in canton Ticino added mask wearing in class to its raft of measures.

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