Teachers' unions want to delay return to classrooms but paediatricians say it is safe

Government says centers will open "for sure" this Monday, January 11

The controversy was opened a few days ago by a statement by 20 experts in epidemiology and statistics who called for a "temporary closure of schools" to prevent new infections. The education unions have added to the demand and are calling for primary and secondary schools to be closed for another 15 days to wait for the restrictions to take effect and for the contagion curve to be slowed before returning to classrooms. But the government warns that classes will resume "for sure" next Monday, a decision that paediatricians have endorsed Thursday.

The head of the Health Department, Alba Vergés, has guaranteed in an interview with RAC1 that the centres will open on Monday 11 and there will be mass screening of teachers and administrative staff to detect possible asymptomatic cases that could have occurred during the Christmas holidays. This option has been endorsed by the Catalan Society of Paediatrics, which in a statement has expressed "all [its] support" to keeping the schools open for students to go in person, as has been done during the first quarter. "The current evidence and scientific publications so far support it," say the board of directors.

Different opinions on the impact of the new variant on children

This statement contrasts with the controversial statement published by some twenty experts in epidemiology, including Oriol Mitjà, who claimed that there is a "lack of definitive scientific evidence" about the role of schools as a motor or firewall for the virus. While it is not clear to epidemiologists that schools are a safe place, for paediatricians the problem is contagion "outside schools" and they warn of "serious consequences" for children if schools are closed.

The paediatricians also recall that both the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have called for closing schools as a last resort, and have appealed to a document issued by the ECDC that concludes that there is no guarantee that the new British variant of the virus (which  has already reached Catalonia) is more transmissible in children under 9 years of age, nor of its impact on schools. According to the paediatricians, "in some areas of the scientific community there has been a misinterpretation" of the data reported by the United Kingdom, since in the graphs the group of children under 9 years is "hyper-represented" since the schools were open and the rest of the population confined. "This variant of the virus doesn't affect children any more and maintains a similar age range as before. There have been different scientific sources that have confirmed this erroneous interpretation," warn the paediatricians.

Again, this position of paediatricians refutes one of the arguments of the epidemiologists, who in their statement defended the closure of the centers because the British variant is 24% more infectious than previous variants in the children between 0 and 9. Teachers' union USTEC has urged the government to follow the UK's lead and postpone the return to the classrooms, while the teachers' union Aspepc has stated that opening the centres on Monday is "an irresponsibility that endangers the health of students, teachers and society" and they demand to postpone the reopening of the centres for 15 days.

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