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Sunday press: government evaluating Covid measures for schools

An older pupil in a school in canton Graubünden undergoes a voluntary corona test earlier this month Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller

The Swiss government is considering whether to tighten coronavirus measures for older pupils, according to a report in the NZZ am Sonntag. Meanwhile the debate over school closures continues, as concerns grow over the new virus variants.

This content was published on January 17, 2021 - 16:19
Keystone-SDA/Sunday press/swissinfo.ch/ilj

All schools were shut down by the government during the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020. Since then, the Swiss government has left the schools issue to the cantons, who are in charge of educational matters in Switzerland.

Unlike other countries, schools are currently open in Switzerland, but under strict hygiene measures and masks from age 12 onwards. The authorities have repeatedly expressed their wish to keep schools open.

But there may be some tightening of measures ahead. According to the NZZ am SonntagExternal link, interior minister Alain Berset’s department has asked the Swiss National Covid-19 Science Task Force and the Conference of Cantonal Education Directors for reports on coronavirus measures in schools.

The article says the move targets academic baccalaureate schools and vocational schools (age 15-16 onwards) for which the government also has some responsibility under the Swiss federal system. Under discussion: alternating half classes, the use of remote teaching and stopping classes like sports, the newspaper explained.

Primary schools are the cantons’ full responsibility, and the government could only intervene when there is an official “special situation” in place as during the first wave of the pandemic, the Federal Office of Public Health told the newspaper.

Opinion divided over closures

Opinion is divided among experts over whether schools should be closed like in neighbouring Austria and Germany. Current official thinking is that younger primary pupils in particular are not the drivers of the pandemic and that disadvantaged pupils would be greatly impacted by school closures.

However, the rise of the new coronavirus variants – Switzerland will go into a semi-lockdown on Monday to stem this – is causing concern.

Epidemiologist Marcel Tanner of the science task force told the SonntagsZeitungExternal link that older pupils should go back to distance learning. He recommended more testing of whole classes and even schools. New saliva tests would make this easier for primary schools, Tanner said, but he was against closing primary schools right now.

Education expert Stefan Wolter – a new addition to the task force – was also against closing schools, as he told the NZZ am SonntagExternal link. Often schools, with their pandemic concepts, were safer than outside, he said. He also pointed to the educational and psychological effects of school closures.

Situation in schools

A survey carried out among 600 head teachers in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and published on SaturdayExternal link by Head Teachers’ Association suggested that in general absences due to pupil illnesses were not higher than normal in January, despite the coronavirus.

But on Sunday, authorities in the southern canton of TicinoExternal link shut down a middle school in Morbio Interiore due to 13 cases of coronavirus, including at least two of the British Covid variant. 500 pupils and 70 teachers are now in quarantine.

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