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Schools could be closed again once infections occur: minister

Published : 12 May 2020, 19:10

Updated : 12 May 2020, 19:21

  DF News Desk

Minister of Education Li Andersson spoke at a press conference on Tuesday. Photo Finnish government by Lauri Heikkinen.

As schools are preparing to reopen this week, after nearly two months of closure to curb the spread of COVID-19, Education Minister Li Andersson said on Tuesday that special arrangements are made to ensure the safety of students, and schools could be closed again once infections appear in a school, reported news agency Xinhua.

Most primary and lower secondary schools in Finland, which have switched to remote learning since March 18, will reopen on May 14.

"According to experts, the impact of reopening schools in the epidemic will be small, but the benefits to children will be great," said Andersson at a press conference.

Andersson, however, emphasized that when returning to contact education, the safety of children will be ensured by, among other things, more spacious facilities, staggered classes and meal hours and improving hygiene.

The minister said that the government is closely following the impacts of the epidemic. If infections appear in a school, decisions will be made according to the Infectious Diseases Act. Municipal officials will make decisions on tracing infections, possible school closures and quarantines.

She added that a decision to close a school could be made very quickly if needed, even in one day.

The minister also disclosed that the Ministry of Education and Culture is working on a temporary amendment to the constitution that would make it possible for students to alternate between distance and contact learning next autumn, if the epidemic surges again.

Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Director General of the National Board of Education, emphasized at the press conference that currently all children should return to school for contact education, and distance learning is no longer provided except in exceptional cases.

Otto Helve, pediatric infectious diseases physician from the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, said that children's role as a source of infection seems to be small, adding that health authorities will closely monitor the impact of school opening on the COVID-19 epidemic.

While lifting restrictions on basic education, the Finnish government recommends that high school and vocational students, as well as university students, continue their distance learning until the end of the school year.

As of Tuesday, Finland had reported 6,003 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 275 deaths. According to a preliminary estimate, at least 4,300 people have recovered from the disease, said Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.