With fall on the way, a wider spread of the coronavirus is likely. Schools in Estonia will continue to conduct rapid testing in the hope of avoiding a full-scale move to distance learning, says Minister of Education and Research Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa).
When pupils gather in school buildings again on September 1 for the start of the new academic year, it is inevitable that the coronavirus may come with them. In an attempt to reduce the potential spread of the virus, the Ministry of Education and Research plans to provide schools once again with additional rapid coronavirus tests.
"To achieve this, an additional batch (of rapid tests) will be delivered to schools in August. Some (schools) will also have spring tests to follow. We will be in a position to react if there are outbreaks of the virus," said Lukas.
Details about how to facilitate testing will be left to the school themselves to decide, with Lukas hoping it will be possible to avoid heavy restrictions on classroom-based learning during the upcoming school year.
Other factors, including the reduction of required self-isolation times for those receiving a positive coronavirus test, are also likely to increase possibility of keeping schools open as long as possible.
"If someone tests positive, the self-isolation (period) is five days. If there is a close contact who has either not been vaccinated or been ill in the last six months, it is advisable – and I hope schools will follow this - to remain in self-isolation for five days. These basic precautions are well-known," said Lukas.
Schools will also be responsible for decisions regarding the need to wear masks during on-site and classroom-based activities. "Whether (wearing masks) becomes embedded in a school's culture is still very much up to the school. It cannot be imposed across the country," said Lukas.
The number of coronavirus cases in Estonia is higher now than at the same time last year. However, Juta Varjas, head of the Health Board's infectious diseases unit believes this should not be cause for undue alarm.
Varjas explained that due to the "additional arsenal" available to individuals to cope with the virus, ranging from "vaccinations to people knowing how to monitor their health," we should also refrain from equating the situation now to the one faced twelve months ago .
To avoid possible outbreaks in schools, Varjas has two recommendations for those preparing for the new academic year. First, get any outstanding vaccine shots before fall, and second, if you do have symptoms, make sure to stay at home.
Tõnis Lukas stressed that the guidelines for schools could still change before the start of the school year, depending on how the situation develops. What is certain is that requirements to move to distance learning will not be implemented as hastily as before.
"My aim is to continue the good line that I think the previous education minister took," said Lukas. "Schools need to keep working with contact teaching."
Editor: Michael Cole