Prime minister: About turn on schools closure result of long consultations

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The prime minister on Friday's Ida-Viru County visit. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Wednesday's decision to send schools on their Christmas vacation early came after several consultations with experts and lengthy assessment of the situation in Estonia's healthcare system, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas says.

Ratas told ERR Wednesday that: "Yes, we had a government cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning where [head of the government's coronavirus scientific council professor] Irja Lutsar gave a presentation. Consultation continued after that. We know how the coronavirus is still propagating today. Our medical sector is also in a very difficult situation. Perhaps if we look at scheduled treatment, we don't have anywhere else to go next, beyond cancellation [of scheduled treatments]. One Wednesday we ended up making a one-size-fits-all decision on schools. This was based on various consultations."

The announcement means not only all schools but also universities and other higher education institutions break up for Christmas in effect at the weekend (the restriction officially enters into force on Monday December 14 – ed.), a volte face on earlier pronouncements government ministers had made, to the effect that they weren't in favor of schools in Ida-Viru County alone going to distance learning.

Remote e-learning is off the table as well, except in some individual cases, and the only type of sports, hobby and leisure activities involving schoolchildren which can take place nationwide involve one-to-one sessions.

However, Ratas also told ERR that while the cabinet opted not to put schools on remote learning, as took place in the spring wave of the pandemic, they could do so by their own decision where possible.

Education minister Jaak Aab (Center) had said Tuesday that he wasn't in favor of closing schools ahead of Christmas, as it would mean that schoolchildren might congregate in public places, with the risk of a repeat performance of the spring break, which saw several COVID-19 outbreaks originate as a result of this.

Schools and higher education institutions will remain shut until the planned first day of the next semester, on January 11. At present this date is still in place, though Ratas said that the situation would be reassessed in late December.

Ratas added that "If the infection [rate] goes down, we want to open the schools as soon as possible."

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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