Schools reopen in Germany despite fears of third wave

Schools and daycares reopened Monday, after two months of closure, in much of Germany despite fears of a third epidemic wave caused by the spread of the British variant.

The children resumed Monday morning the way to daycare or school in 10 of the 16 regional states. They had already taken it up last week in two other Länder, Lower Saxony and Saxony.

“It is good that many schools in Germany are gradually resuming face-to-face teaching,” Education Minister Anja Karliczek told DPA. “Children, especially the youngest, need each other”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel herself admitted on Monday that there is a strong desire for easing restrictions in Germany, which she said she understood, according to remarks made Monday morning behind closed doors at a meeting of her party leaders. Christian Democrat (CDU) and reported by an AFP participant.

Classes, interrupted face-to-face since mid-December, however resume under drastic sanitary conditions, with classes alternating in half-groups or fixed numbers that will not be able to meet other students.

The government also wants to speed up the vaccination of teachers and educators, said Bavarian Regional Minister of Health Klaus Holetschek, following consultations with the other Länder and Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn.

Schoolchildren wear protective masks in class at a primary school in Dortmund on February 22, 2021 in Germany (AFP – Ina FASSBENDER)

The million educators and teachers will thus pass to the rank of “high priority” to be vaccinated, despite the reservations of the German Immunization Commission (STIKO), which wants to focus on the most vulnerable patients.

Free tests and self-tests at one euro are also expected from March 1, a promise from the Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, that the opposition but also the associations of doctors or pharmacists consider difficult to keep.

– “False promises” –

Despite drastic restrictions regularly extended for two months, Germany has all the sorrows, in particular because of the spread of the British variant, to contain the pandemic, which has killed nearly 68,000 people.

The seven-day incidence rate thus rose to 61 on Monday (compared to 60.2 on Sunday), far from the ceiling of 35 below which relaxations can be introduced.

“The lockdown is strong enough against the original virus. But the new variants continue to develop,” worries Karl Lauterbach, expert on health issues in the Social Democratic Party. For him, Germany is “at the start of a third wave” of contamination.

“The change unfortunately destroys our good development at the moment,” added Angela Merkel’s right-hand man at the Chancellery, Helge Braun on Monday morning.

In this context, the Minister of Health dampened the hopes of those who hoped for flexibility, including with an incidence rate above 35. Government and regional presidents will meet on March 3 to discuss it.

“Everyone wants a three- and six-month plan, but that’s not possible right now. I think we shouldn’t make any false promises,” Spahn warned on public television ARD, even evoking a lowering of the incidence ceiling to 10 allowing restrictions to be relaxed.

Chancellor Merkel, however, promised that easing scenarios would be developed by a government working group from Tuesday in the areas of personal contacts, schools and daycares, as well as for cultural, sports and catering venues.

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