Denmark first in Europe to reopen schools after coronavirus lockdown

Denmark began reopening schools on Wednesday after a month-long closure over the novel coronavirus, becoming the first country in Europe to do so.

Denmark first in Europe to reopen schools after coronavirus lockdown
Children keep their distance at Korshøjskolen in Randers after reopening on Wednesday. Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix
Nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools were reopening, according to an AFP correspondent, after they were closed on March 12 in an effort to curb the COVID-19 epidemic.
However classes are only resuming in about half of Denmark's municipalities and in about 35 percent of Copenhagen's schools, as other have requested more time to adjust to health protocols still in place. All are expected to reopen by April 20.
In the centre of the capital Copenhagen, some 220 pupils up to the second grade arrived at the Norrebro Park Skole, welcomed by their teachers who waved Danish flags. Children in the third and fourth grade will follow on Thursday.
The children quickly settled into the reorganised classrooms designed to comply with strict new sanitary guidelines.
“I feel great, really good about the kids going back to school,” Caroline, a 38-year-old and mother of two, told AFP.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made a surprise visit to Lykkebo Skole in Valby outside Copenhagen to watch the event. 
“I'm wildly impressed,” she told the TV2 news broadcaster. “The children are very happy to see their classmates again.” 
Frederiksen said that she understood that the extra precautions around the reopening were “a hassle” for both parents and children.  
She later wrote about her visit on her Facebook page. 
“Several of the children described how hard it was not to be able to give their best friends a hug simply out of happiness to see them again,” she wrote. “That's something I can understand.” 

In early April the country's centre-left government announced that schools would be reopened “on the condition that everyone keeps their distance and washes their hands.”
But while schools are gradually reopening, bars, restaurants, hairdressing and massage parlours, shopping centres and discos remain closed, and gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.

Schools are required to ensure that a distance of two metres (about six feet) is maintained between desks in classrooms and recesses must be organised for small groups.
A headache for teachers is that they must ensure that pupils are never in groups of more than two while inside and five outside.
Socially distanced teaching
To adhere to guidelines, the school in Norrebro has divided the classes into two or three groups, limiting the number of students in a classroom to 12.
Bottles with hand sanitiser are never far away to encourage students to clean their hands regularly.
“We have the space because we're using the classrooms usually used by the older grades who are working from home now,” said headmaster Henrik Wilhelmsen, adding that it would present an issue when older students also return.
Some parents have opposed the reopening of schools, citing health concerns. A petition dubbed “My child is not a guinea pig” has garnered some 18,000 signatures.
According to the petition's organisers, “children can easily carry the disease without getting sick.”
Wilhelmsen told AFP that around 15 parents had informed the school that they would not bring their children back.
Others however trust their government's judgement.
“I think we're all going to be sick at one point and they told us the children are going to be less sick and affected by this virus,” said Caroline, the mother.

Middle and high school students, will continue remote classes and are only expected to return to classrooms on May 10.
As of Tuesday, Denmark had 6,691 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 299 deaths.
The country has banned gatherings of more than 10 people and bars, restaurants, hairdressers, shopping malls and clubs have been closed.
Before Denmark, Austria was the first European country to unveil its roadmap for a return to a “new normal”.
On Tuesday, it allowed small non-food shops to open up, while maintaining social distancing rules and requiring masks to be worn in shops and on public transport.
Austria plans to keep schools, cafes and restaurants closed until at least mid-May.

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Explained: What are Denmark’s Covid-19 guidelines for the new school year?

The Danish Health Authority has issued new coronavirus guidelines for the start of the new school year on Monday. We explain what has changed and what restrictions remain?

Explained: What are Denmark's Covid-19 guidelines for the new school year?
Pupils at Amager Fælled Skole on their return to the classroom in March this year. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Isn’t there a risk that infections will spike after children return? 

Absolutely. After the new guidelines were released, Søren Brostsrøm, the authority’s director, said that he expected a resurgence in infections after pupils return to school. 

“There’s no doubt that infection will increase in Danish society, partly because we are opening up institutions and workplaces and partly because we are changing our contact patterns when we come home from holiday,” he told the broadcaster TV2

But he said that the high number of vaccinated people meant that higher levels of infection could be tolerated. 

“We are doing this first and foremost because we have a massively high vaccine coverage in Denmark, especially among the elderly and vulnerable, who are the ones at risk of becoming seriously ill.” 

“We are raising the threshold without letting go of the reins, so hopefully we will have a relatively normal school year.” 

What’s the big change? 

The biggest change is that classes will no longer be sent home, or their schools closed, if one of their classmates tests positive for coronavirus.

Pupils will now only be sent home if there are “major outbreaks or other special situations”.

This will be the case, for example, if more than 30 to 40 people at the school are infected, if there is a super-spreading event at the school, or if there are new and particularly worrying coronavirus variants among those infected.

Schools must contact the Danish Agency for Patient Safety for advice before sending a class or school home. 

“We would very much like to help get schooling back to normal as it was before the coronavirus epidemic,” said Andreas Rudkjøbing, a doctor at the authority in a press release announcing the new guidelines. “Therefore, our priority is to ensure that the schools remain open as far as possible.” 

In addition, pupils will no longer be considered to have been “in close contact” with an infected person simply because they are in the same class. They will need to have been less than one metre away for more than 15 minutes. 

What restrictions are still in place? 

On June 11th, Denmark removed most of the restrictions which had been placed on schools since they returned after the first lockdown in April 2020. 

But schools and kindergartens are still encouraged to follow the authority’s general infection prevention recommendations. These are: 
  • Get vaccinated
  • Stay home and get tested if you get symptom
  • Keep distance
  • Ventilate and create draft
  • Wash your hands often or use rubbing alcohol
  • Clean, especially surfaces that many people touch
Students and school staff are also advised to be tested for coronavirus twice a week if they are over the age of 12 and have yet to be fully vaccinated. 
What counts as “contact” with an infected person?
Pupils will count as having been in “close contact” and will need to stay home if they have been less than one metre away from someone who tests positive for more than 15 minutes. 
This is extended to two metres if the pupils have been engaged in activities with strong exhalation such as singing, loud speech or shouting, activities that involve physical exertion, or have been together in enclosed places with poor ventilation. 
In kindergartens, children who share a room will all be considered close contacts. 
Pupils will also need to stay home if someone they live with tests positive. 
Close contacts of infected people should go into self-isolation and get tested on day four and day six after they have been contact. They can leave self-isolation ten days after the onset of symptoms, after two fever-free days, or after a positive test. 
It will be up to the leadership of schools and kindergartens to decide if anyone counts as an “other contact”, who has not been in close contact, but should still get tested, even if vaccinated. “Other contacts” do not need to self-isolate.  
What happens if a pupil or member of staff develops coronavirus symptoms while at school? 
According to the new guidelines, they should be kept separate from other pupils or staff members until they can be picked up and taken home, with everything they touch cleaned afterwards. 
Under Danish law pupils under the age of 15 cannot be tested for coronavirus without parental consent, so if a test is to be caried out by the school, pupils’ parents must be asked first. 
If parents do not want A child to be tested, they child should go into self-isolation until 48 hours after their symptoms cease
What should schools do if one or more pupils or members of staff test positive? 
Schools and kindergartens are advised to contact their local municipal health service for advice, and to then detgermine whether the infected person has been present at the institution during their “infection period”. 
The Danish Agency for Patient Safety may then contact the institution with information on infection tracking and measures to prevent further outbreaks. 
If the infected person has been present, everything they have touched should be cleaned, areas they have been in should be ventilated. 
Pupils and staff should be reminded of basic hygiene recommendations.