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.
Why keep schools open?
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.
What are medical experts saying?
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