The Italian government is to meet on Wednesday to discuss further Covid regulations, including how to curb a rise in infections among schoolchildren but while also limiting distance learning.
One of the options is expected to detail a new quarantine requirement for students who test positive for Covid, and when distance learning – or ‘DAD‘ (‘didattica a distanza’) – will be activated.
So far, schools are due to reopen as planned between January 7th and 10th and the Christmas holidays won’t be extended, as had been discussed previously – although some municipalities or regions have individually decided to postpone their back-to-school date after the festive break.
Calendar: When do Italy’s Covid-19 rules change?
One idea being considered makes a distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated children. In the case of four positive cases detected in a class, there will be a week’s DAD and quarantine for all the pupils in the class, in addition to a testing requirement for the unvaccinated, if the vaccinated children have no symptoms.
As things stand in the draft decree, these are the potential changes for primary school and middle school students up to the sixth grade, reported news agency Ansa.
Under this threshold, everyone is expected to undergo self-monitoring and to wear FFP2 masks. Students are to be asked to only stay in family environments and not mix with other households, although these measures are still under review.
The current school rules dictate that the whole class will automatically go into quarantine only if there are three positives cases detected.
Authorities reduced this to one infection in November, but then reverted to the original plans just one day later.
Opinions are still divided on whether this will work or if a last-minute delay to restarting school would be more effective.
Vincenzo De Luca, the governor of Campania, has called for the return to the classroom to be postponed by 20-30 days to “cool down the contagion peak” and to “develop the largest possible vaccination campaign for the student population,” reports Sky Tg24 news.
For education minister Patrizio Bianchi, however, it is “fundamental to protect teaching in the classroom”, as has always been his line throughout the use of distance learning in the pandemic.
Decisions on rule changes in school will take into account the latest infection figures among school-age children.
The Italian Society of Paediatrics (SIP) stated that in the last week, about one infection in four are among children under 20. In a month, the number of people admitted to hospital under 19 increased by 791 – from 8,632 to 9,423.
“In recent weeks, in the five-11 age group, there have been 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, which is a significant increase in incidence compared to other age groups,” said SIP President Annamaria Staiano.
Vaccination among the five-11 year-olds is still low, but they only began in mid-December for this category. Since Italy started immunising Italy’s 3.5 million children in this age group, 10 percent have now had one dose according to the latest figures, while some 403 children nationwide have fully completed the cycle.
This is compared to 70 percent vaccination coverage among 12-19 year-olds.
But vaccination rates alone have been criticised as a reason for triggering distance learning, failing to take into account the psychological impact on children.
“During this pandemic period, we have observed a more than significant increase in cases of psychiatric disorders in children: from anxiety disorders and depression to acts of self-harm and cases of attempted suicide. This is a huge social problem that must be prevented,” stated Staiano.
But De Luca claimed, “it is necessary to look at reality without falling into depression, to use reason to fight. Now we know that we don’t have a vaccine that is enough, we need the second and third dose. So patience is needed to govern this situation.”
These changes are set to be approved or rejected along with an extension to the ‘super green pass’ requirement for all workplaces. This will mark the third decree after the government already brought in two previous ones in as many weeks.