Why Is Europe Keeping Its Schools Open, Despite New Lockdowns?

BERLIN — When Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the latest round of restrictions on public life, she named bars, restaurants, theaters, concert halls, gyms and tattoo parlors as institutions that would be forced to close. But missing from the list released on Wednesday were schools and day care centers — among the first to be shuttered in the spring lockdown.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron also said on Wednesday that schools would be exempt from wide-reaching nationwide restrictions that are to take effect beginning Friday. Ireland also allowed schools to remain open despite a nationwide lockdown that went into effect earlier this month.

Not everyone is happy with the decisions, but policymakers are taking extra precautions to reduce the risk in schools, from mask requirements for teachers and pupils, to regular airing of classrooms, to split use of schoolyards during breaks. They say they are applying hard-learned lessons from months of fighting the pandemic, and are prepared to change directions if things take a turn for the worse.

Micheal Martin, the Irish prime minister, said that while his country could no longer avoid restrictions, despite the detrimental impact on the economy, it was vital that schools remained open.

“We cannot and will not allow our children and young people’s futures to be another victim of this disease,” Mr. Martin said in a national address. “They need their education.”

Around the world, there is mounting concern that the pandemic is doing lasting harm to the academic and emotional development of an entire generation of children.

Earlier this month, the German conference of ministers of culture, who are responsible for coordinating education policy, stressed children’s right to an education, which they said is best served among peers, in classrooms. “This must take highest priority in making all decisions about restrictive measures that need to be taken,” the minister said.

In making her announcement, Ms. Merkel cited another reason that maintaining access to schools was important, pointing to the “dramatic social consequences” that closing schools and day care centers had on families during the lockdown in March and April.

“To name it clearly: Violent assaults against women and children increased dramatically,” Ms. Merkel said, justifying her government’s decision to halt sports, cultural events and close restaurants instead. “It is important to bear in mind the social consequences if we have to intervene in these issues.”

Keeping children at home often made it hard for parents — especially mothers — to devote their divided attention to work.

Medical experts point to many things they now know that were unknown back in the spring: with proper precautions, the rate of coronavirus transmission in schools is relatively low, especially among the youngest students; children who do get infected tend to have mild symptoms; and measures like mask-wearing, social distancing and air circulation are more effective than they had predicted.

But that does not mean open schools are risk-free. While schools are not known to have been a major

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US opioid deaths rising amid coronavirus lockdowns, state health officials say

Opioid deaths are spiking in places across the U.S. as states remain locked down during the ongoing battle against the coronavirus, state and county health officials reported this month.

While national data isn’t available for most of 2020, several individual states are reporting an increase in opioid overdose deaths amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Health officials and experts have cited increased isolation and job loss due to statewide shutdowns as possible factors for the surge in drug-related deaths.

“The pandemic has really increased risk factors for substance abuse disorder,” Rebecca Shultz, director of community health at the Onondaga County Health Department, told Syracuse.com.

Opioid deaths in Onondaga County, N.Y., jumped to 86 in the first six months of 2020, according to the county health department. This number was nearly double the reported 44 fatalities in the first half of 2019, the outlet reported, citing the county medical examiner’s office.

Oregon saw a 70% increase in opioid overdose deaths in April and May 2020 compared to the same time last year, the Oregon Health Authority said.

While the department called the rise an “alarming spike,” it also said it was “premature to say how much of the spike in overdose deaths is attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“However, the realization that we will be dealing with COVID-19 for some time, and other stressors related to jobs, school, and social isolation, may increase feelings of anxiety and depression, and that can lead to a harmful level of alcohol or other drug use,” said Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer and deputy state epidemiologist.

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In Maine, which saw 258 overdose deaths from January through June, there was a 27% increase over the second half of 2019. Officials cited increased isolation as a partial factor for the rise.

“It is clear from the data that the increase in deaths from the opioid epidemic can be partially attributed to the increased isolation of living through the pandemic,” Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a report on the state’s drug deaths for the second quarter.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told FOX40 Sacramento that “in some of our counties, there are more deaths from overdoses than there are from COVID-19.”

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Becerra said that in San Diego there was a 50% increase in overdose deaths in July and August compared to the months leading to the pandemic. He said “the effects of these plagues are exacerbating” due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, preliminary overdose death counts were up in Connecticut more than 19% through the end of July, compared with the same period last year. They were up 9% in Washington through the end of August, 28% in Colorado, and 30% in Kentucky during that same time.

After a one-year drop in 2018, U.S. opioid overdose deaths increased again in

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Trump addresses addiction, depression due to COVID-19 lockdowns

President Trump on Friday warned of depression and addiction, which health professionals says is on the rise amid coronavirus lockdowns, during the final 2020 presidential debate. 

Trump and 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden took opposing stances toward the country’s future in the middle of a pandemic, with Biden telling the audience that the U.S. is “about to go into a dark winter” and the president disagreeing with that statement.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a dark winter at all,” the president, who has been criticized for initially downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic, said.

Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to reporters before boarding his campaign plane at Nashville International Airport Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to reporters before boarding his campaign plane at Nashville International Airport Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

He went on to say that furthering lockdowns, however, could steer Americans down a darker emotional path.

“We can’t keep this country closed,” Trump said. “This is a massive country with a massive economy. There’s depression, alcohol, drugs at a level nobody’s ever seen before. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.”

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Biden responded by saying he was “going to shut down the virus, not the country,” adding that Trump’s “ineptitude” is what caused the country to shut down.

“Why businesses have gone under, why schools have closed, why people have lost their living, and they are concerned,” Biden said. “He should have been — instead of in a sand trap at his golf course — he should have been negotiating with Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats and Republicans…”

ESTIMATES SUGGEST DRUG OVERDOSES ON THE RISE SINCE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

The number of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression since the outset of the virus reached an all-time high in September, particularly among young people, according to an October report from mental health nonprofit Mental Health America.

Firefighters and paramedics with Anne Arundel County Fire Department wear enhanced PPE, during the coronavirus pandemic, as they treat a patient in cardiac arrest as a result of a drug overdose on May 6, 2020. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Firefighters and paramedics with Anne Arundel County Fire Department wear enhanced PPE, during the coronavirus pandemic, as they treat a patient in cardiac arrest as a result of a drug overdose on May 6, 2020. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The report found that 9.7% of U.S. youth are experiencing severe depression compared to 9.2% from the same time last year. Among U.S. adults, more than 8 in 10 people who took anxiety screenings in September had moderate to severe symptoms. The same rate was consistently true for those who took depression screenings between March and September.

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Alcohol and drug abuse has gone through the roof. At least 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related fatalities since COVID-19 lockdowns began, and several have reported increases in alcohol-related deaths, as well, according to an October issue brief from the American Medical Association (AMA), citing a number of national reports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported a 10% increase in overdose deaths during the first few

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Curfews, lockdowns rain down on Europe amid record Covid cases

France extended its anti-Covid curfew to cover two-thirds of the population and Ireland locked down again on Thursday as governments warned of a dire situation in Europe where countries are registering record cases.

Most European governments have been reluctant to reimpose national stay-at-home orders after previous restrictions led to deep recessions and widespread bitterness.

But Ireland became the first country on the continent to re-impose a full-on lockdown on Thursday, with its five-million-strong weary population ordered to stay home for six weeks, and non-essential businesses told to shut up shop.

“The infection rates, hospital occupancy rates but also death rates are rising all over Europe,” warned Andrea Ammon, head of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, in an interview with the BBC.

In Dublin, resident Jo Finn told AFP a lot of friends were  struggling with mental health issues.

“Because of this second lockdown we can’t socialise, we can’t meet up,” Finn said during a muted morning rush hour.

In France, meanwhile, a nighttime curfew that had already been in place in Paris and eight other cities was extended to wide swathes of the country, more than doubling the number of people affected to 46 million.

“The health situation of our country continues to deteriorate,” Prime Minister Jean Castex warned as France registered a record 41,622 new cases over 24 hours on Thursday, and 165 deaths.

– Curfews galore –

Germany, Denmark, Portugal and Italy all registered their highest one-day tallies since the pandemic began, and a slew of other European countries are voicing alarm at rapidly rising infections.

Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute disease control centre, said “the overall situation has become very serious”.

German health experts said it was still possible to combat the outbreak by observing recently-toughened rules on distancing and gatherings.

For its part, Italy ordered curfews in regions that cover the capital Rome and business hub Milan. 

And Portugal has banned people from travelling between cities for five days starting October 30, which includes a bank holiday.

Greece meanwhile declared a night curfew in Athens, Thessaloniki in the north and other areas.

As Europe suffers, China — where the virus first emerged at the end of last year — continues to make strides back to normality, announcing it would allow 10,000 fans to watch the final of its Super League football competition.

The virus has killed more than 1.1 million people and prompted a catastrophic economic downturn, with the International Monetary Fund predicting a 4.4 percent drop in global output for 2020.

– ‘Irresponsible behaviour’ –

Politicians meanwhile continued to be hit by the virus.

Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn — widely praised for his calm stewardship during the pandemic — tested positive and went into home isolation.

In Belgium, which has one of the worst rates of infections per person, Foreign Minister and former prime minister Sophie Wilmes is being treated in intensive care after testing positive.

“She is conscious and she can communicate,” her spokeswoman said.

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After Months of Minimal COVID-19 Containment, Sweden Appears to Be Considering Local Lockdowns

Sweden-coronavirus
Sweden-coronavirus

People walk on Stranvagen in Stockholm on Sept. 19, 2020. Credit – Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP—Getty Images

Swedish authorities appear to be reconsidering their notoriously lax approach to COVID-19 containment, which has contributed to one of the world’s higher coronavirus death rates.

Starting Oct. 19, regional health authorities may direct citizens to avoid high-risk areas such as gyms, concerts, public transportation and shopping centers, the Telegraph reports. They may also encourage residents to avoid socializing with elderly or other high-risk individuals.

“It’s more of a lockdown situation—but a local lockdown,” Dr. Johan Nojd, who leads the infectious diseases department in the city of Uppsala, told the Telegraph.

A legal official from Sweden’s public health agency told the Telegraph the new policy is “something in between regulations and recommendations.” Violating the guidelines, for example, would not result in fines. Still, it’s a significant shift from Sweden’s previous handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While countries around the world implemented lockdowns once the virus began spreading, Swedish authorities largely let life continue as normal.

The Swedish government in March limited public gatherings to 50 people, but the policy left gaping loopholes—it doesn’t apply to private and corporate gatherings, nor to schools, shopping malls and plenty of other locations. Restaurants and bars never closed. Masks are not recommended in most places. There’s little to stop people from going to school or work if they come into contact with an infected person. Sweden’s testing and contact tracing capacities are lacking.

As of Oct. 18, Sweden’s per-capita death rate—58.6 per 100,000 people—was among the highest in the world. And from early September to early October, average daily cases nationwide rose by 173%, with particularly dramatic increases in cities such as Stockholm and Uppsala.

These hard-hit areas are the focus of Sweden’s shifting guidance, according to the Telegraph‘s report. Nojd told the outlet he is considering telling people in Uppsala not to visit the elderly and other vulnerable populations, and to avoid making unnecessary trips on public transportation. He also mentioned the possibility of imposing curfews on restaurants.

Neither representatives from the Public Health Agency of Sweden nor the city of Uppsala immediately responded to TIME’s request for further comment.

Swedish authorities appear to be conceding that reaching herd immunity—the threshold at which enough of a population is immune to the virus for it to stop spreading widely—is unlikely to be happen without a vaccine. While officials have avoided explicitly calling herd immunity the goal of their casual containment approach, emails obtained by journalists show high-level Swedish public-health officials discussing that strategy as early as March, apparently motivated by economic concerns.

National studies, however, show that far fewer people have developed natural immunity than officials hoped—as evidenced by the ongoing spike in infections. Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell acknowledged that reality last week.

“I think the obvious conclusion is that the level of immunity in those cities is not at all as high as we have, as maybe some people, have believed,” Tegnell said.

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