Government needs more time to mull Ida-Viru schools' early Christmas break

Empty school desks (photo is illustrative).
Empty school desks (photo is illustrative). Source: Pixabay

The government is to make a decision Thursday on a proposal from its coronavirus scientific council to send all Ida-Viru County schoolchildren home next week, in other words starting the Christmas break early, amid rising coronavirus rates.

The council, led by University of Tartu professor Irja Lutsar, has strongly recommended starting the school break a week and a half early in Ida-Viru County, with milder measures also recommended for Harju and Tartu counties.

The Christmas vacation for schools starts around a week before the main celebratory day, which in Estonia is on December 24.

The three counties are the most populous regions of the country, together comprising about two thirds of the total population, and are also the worst-hit in terms of coronavirus rates, with Ida-Viru County's current per capita incidence about double that of Harju County, which includes Tallinn.

The government however says it needs more time to deliberate, with ministers giving an indication that it is more opposed to the move than pro it, since it might move the problem away from schools and to other locations.

New education minister Jaak Aab (Center) told Vikerraadio show "Uudis+" Tuesday that: "No final decision has been made, but my firm recommendation is not to start the break any earlier, because given this situation, at Christmas, children and young people will likely somewhere else if they have nothing else to do. We will not significantly reduce contacts [by implementing the measure]. They will congregate somewhere, be it in the cinema, at the shopping center etc., where it is possible to while away the time in various ways."

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) told ERR that the normal school year, including in-school education, was preferred nationwide, pointing out that school holidays, for instance at half-term, have also been accompanied by COVID-19 rate increases.

"There is no convincing way to say that a longer school break would necessarily reduce the infection," Kiik said, referring to basic schools (Estonian: "Algkool", elementary schools in other words).

Education minister: Remote learning preferable

Jaak Aab said that more remote learning would be preferable, either in Ida-Viru County or nationally.

The matter would have to wait until Thursday for an implementation from the beginning of next week, he added, noting that measures should be targeted differently to different regions and rolled out to other counties where needed.

The Riigikogu is also to discuss the matter, as well as the government, Tanel Kiik said, along with restrictions and the situation across the board, including in the healthcare sector.

Kiik also said that the international experience was very varied, including on strict versus more relaxed rules.

"More and more strict measures may not actually give the desired result if society does not accept them, does not comply with them, or consider them right. There is no point in making restrictions just for the sake of it."

Jaak Aab concurred, noting that just as the recent increasing numbers have been in increments, of around 10-15 percent per week, so too should further restrictions be instigated to match.

"Experts believe that the [existing] restrictions have prevented explosive growth [of coronavirus rates]," Aab said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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