When schools return from the current half-term break next Monday, both children and teaching staff who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus will likely have to undergo two tests per week, each week, education minister Liina Kersna (Reform) told ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) Tuesday.
A streamlined quarantine procedure enters into force when schools return from the holiday, which, Kersna said: "Means that close contacts are subjected to a PCR test and must be in self-isolation until the result of the test is known. This should also prevent the spread of infection at school."
Kersna said that she was pleased that teachers had made use of the school break to get a coronavirus booster dose, and added the unvaccinated teachers should wear a face-mask while at school.
Both unvaccinated school children and unvaccinated teachers will likely be tested twice-weekly, Kersna went on, stating that the government's goal is to keep schools open as long as possible.
She said: "I proposed that in schools, we start screening twice a week via the use of rapid tests to test students and teachers who have not been vaccinated, or who have recovered from the virus. We will be able to arrange for this to happen on a regular basis."
The state would procure rapid test equipment, she said, rather than local government, which had been the case up until now; the self-diagnostic tests make use of samples either taken from the nasal cavity or from a saliva sample, she added.
When asked about what will happen with any schoolchildren whose parents do not permit the school to test them for the virus, Kersna did not provide an answer, ERR reports.
The government had not yet taken a position on the status of school students aged 13-18 entering cinemas and other entertainment venues, she added, while a cabinet-level proposal to extend the one-week break to two weeks has not been taken up as of now, Kersna added.
Any planned childrens' camps and inter-school events should be postponed untl at least the new year, Kersna added, while funding arrangements for study camps will be reorganized so that the money can still be used into the new year.
ERR also asked Kersna how seriously a return to remote learning was taken at cabinet level, to which she responded: "Certainly at schools with a high level of infection, as was the case in the past, the headteacher can decide in conjunction the Health Board whether at class, if the virus is very widespread, the whole school should be directed to distance learning; this has been done before and, sine the level of infection in society is high, we will probably have to continue to do so," Kersna answered.
"If we consider the fact that we have 125 school outbreaks as of week 42, 43 of these have not been diagnosed with any new infections 0ver the past 10 days, while 21 have been diagnosed with at least one new case, meaning that at 64 outlets have zero to one new infection detected," Kersna told AK.
A bleaker scenario must also be accounted for, she added. "If there is still a very high level of infection in schools, then at some point we will be forced to send schools away."
Health minister. Cabinet options under discussion, announcement Thursday
Health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) said earlier Tuesday that the government is to continue to discuss additional restrictions, with a decision due Thursday.
Kiik told ERR that: "We discussed different options to counter the spread of the virus at a cabinet sitting for three hours, that also included promoting vaccinations. We have not made any new decisions on measures yet, but will continue these discussions in the upcoming days. We can announce the supplemental steps to avoid spread and maintaining good tempo for vaccinations by Thursday."
Also on Tuesday, head of the government's coronavirus advisory council Professor Irja Lutsar said that her organization is not in favor of closing society and reducing in-person contacts, on the grounds that this will not pay off in the longer-term.
Close to 1,700 coronavirus cases identified in schools going into half-term break
Coronavirus outbreaks in schools have been rising in the lead up to this week's half-term break, and close to 1,700 cases have been identified, BNS reports.
Between week 40 (October 4-10) and week 41 (October 11-17) this year, the number of outbreaks centered on schools rose from 93 to 103, while the number of children infected in school outbreaks rose from 937 to 1,268, respectively.
269 teaching and other adult school staff had contracted the virus as of October 17, up from 185 the week before.
As of the end of last week, meanwhile, 125 school outbreaks, comprising 1,699 infected students and 350 adults, had been identified, the education ministry said.
45.6 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds, and 60.4 percent of 16 to 17-year-olds, had received an anti-coronavirus vaccine dose, while nearly 82 percent of school employees had been vaccinated with at least one dose, BNS reports.
This article was updated to include figures from the education ministry on the number of outbreaks, infections and vaccinations among school pupils, teachers and other personnel.
Editor: Andrew Whyte