Covid-19: Concerns remain about testing as two-thirds of Italian pupils return to school

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Covid-19: Concerns remain about testing as two-thirds of Italian pupils return to school
Students enter in the Italo Calvino school in Turin on January 7, 2021. - From January 7 on primary school and secondary school students come back with 50% of children due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)

Around two thirds of Italian students returned to class on Wednesday, as Italy partially relaxed the coronavirus restrictions which had kept all schools closed since mid-March.


Some 5.6 million pupils went back to in-person classes on Wednesday - almost 66% of the 8.5 million pupils enrolled in state and private schools in the country.

The remaining 2.9 million students will continue with distance learning. 

Pupils up to the prima media (the equivalent of sixth grade in the US or Year 7 in the UK) are allowed to return to class in person from Wednesday, even in red zones.

Previously all schools in red zones had to teach remotely. 

Secondary school pupils in upper years will continue following all their lessons remotely in red zones. In orange zones, up to 50 percent of teaching for older pupils will remain online.

Local authorities still have the power to order schools closed, so some primary schools will continue teaching all or part of their lessons online.


Authorities in some regions, such as Puglia, have brought in their own rules allowing parents to choose whether or not to send children to school, while in some towns and municipalities all schools remain closed due to high infection rates.

And even though kindergartens and primary schools are closed, 2.7 million of the youngest pupils will return to class today under rules which guarantee in-person teaching for children with additional needs.

But as class restarts, concerns remain that some local authorities may not be prepared to contain outbreaks of coronavirus in schools.

School students protest in Turin on March 17th against the closure of schools from the seventh grade up. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP

Over 80% of Italy's school staff have now been vaccinated for Covid-19, Antonello Giannelli, the president of the national head teachers' association, told SkyTg24 on Tuesday.

Teachers were among those in the groups given access to the vaccine first in Italy, as keeping schools open remains a priority for the government.

READ ALSO: Who is in Italy’s Covid-19 vaccine priority groups?

However, it is not known how many have had the second dose needed for full immunization.


Giannelli added that there is a "logistical problem" when it comes to testing and monitoring the spread of coronavirus in Italian schools.

"The number of staff is not yet sufficient to do this operation on a major scale," he said.

Schools are the only area in which the government has relaxed the coronavirus rules under the latest update.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday there were now “very early signs of a slowdown” in infection rates, allowing for some cautious re-openings.

Over the past 13 months, Italian students have had to put up with longer suspensions of face-to-face schooling than most of their peers in Europe.

Italy was the first country in Europe to face the full force of the coronavirus pandemic, and has so far reported more than 110,000 Covid-19-related deaths.


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