The scientific council - the government's coronavirus advisory body - has recommended the coalition consider opening schools earlier in areas where COVID-19 infection numbers are lower, the body's chief Professor Irja Lutsar has said. This idea is supported by the minister for education and research.
"The council is of the opinion that especially in the case of schools, a regional approach is one option in moving forward. I agree that in the areas where the infection rate is lower and which are well-protected areas like islands and smaller schools in South Estonia where the infection rate is also lower, a regional approach is definitely an option," Lutsar said on Tuesday. "It is not reasonable to keep all Estonian schoolchildren on distance learning," she added.
Lutsar noted that enabling students to return to contact learning is the council's top priority.
"However, we have to get all indicators moving downwards," Lutsar added and reminded the public that the restrictions were primarily established to decrease the workload facing hospitals.
"If the number of hospitalizations, infections and deaths starts to decrease, if a proper downward trend is achieved there and the table of indicators shows that we are out of the dark-red zone," she said.
Kersna: Reopening of schools can take place on regional basis
Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) also agrees with opening schools on a regional basis and based on infection rates.
"The Scientific Council suggested that from April 26, after the school holidays, consideration could be given to opening schools regionally in those counties or regions with lower infection rates," Kersna said on Tuesday.
She said the government will return to the topic in two weeks to see if the downward trend is continuing.
"Even if we start opening schools, it is not possible to have all the children in school at the same time. Then the infection will probably start to increase. We must also plan the opening of schools in stages," the minister said.
Kersna said research shows children returning to school does not increase the rate of infection as much as other institutions as it does not increase domestic mobility.
"In the field of education, regional reliefs are justified in the sense that they do not cause intra-Estonian migration. If, for example, we keep the spas in Tallinn but open them in Tartu, we have already seen people moving to the area where the spas are open during the crisis. But there is no such movement with schools and it is a great advantage when considering this relief," she said.
Editor's note: This article was updated to add comments from Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna.
Editor: Roberta Vaino