Millions in Europe head back to school

Mask-wearing children returned to classes in France, Poland, U.K. and Russia after summer breaks end.

September 01, 2020 10:59 pm | Updated 11:00 pm IST

Back in classroom: A teacher, wearing a protective face mask, teaching in a classroom at a primary school in Nice after it reopened on Tuesday.

Back in classroom: A teacher, wearing a protective face mask, teaching in a classroom at a primary school in Nice after it reopened on Tuesday.

Millions of mask-wearing European children headed back to school on Tuesday after summer holidays despite rising numbers of novel coronavirus infections, as Hong Kong rolled out a mass coronavirus ( COVID-19 ) testing programme.

Schools reopened in Russia, Ukraine, Belgium, England and France, where teachers and their pupils aged 11 and older were obliged to wear face coverings, echoing regulations in place across the continent.

Russia’s 17 million school children returned to class as the country confirmed it had passed one million infections — still well behind the tally in the U.S., now higher than six million.

Officials have drawn fire from parents and teachers worried that strict social distancing and other protective measures will not be enough to prevent a second wave of COVID-19.

Coronavirus | Europe tightens virus measures as cases surge

But many governments insist that the greater risk is young people losing out on crucial in-person lessons, and that keeping kids at home for distance learning puts too big a burden on working parents.

“I do not underestimate how challenging the last few months have been, but I do know how important it is for children to be back in school, not only for their education but for their development and well-being,” Britain’s Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

The Chinese city at the centre of the initial outbreak, Wuhan, took another leap back to normality on Tuesday when its almost 1.4 million youngsters also returned to schools and kindergartens.

U.S. tops 5 million confirmed virus cases, to Europe's alarm

State media broadcast images of thousands of students hoisting the Chinese flag -- a daily routine at all public schools -- despite warnings to avoid mass gatherings.

Upsurge in cases

European countries have faced an upsurge in cases in recent weeks after successfully suppressing the numbers, a similar story to Hong Kong where three-quarters of cases have been detected within the past two months.

However, Hong Kong’s attempts to roll out a mass testing scheme have been hampered by distrust of officials following China’s crushing of the city’s democracy movement.

Doctors and testing firms from mainland China are involved in the programme, fuelling public fears that their DNA and data will be harvested to create a system of control underpinned by biometrics.

“I think it’s a waste of time,” local resident Emily Li told AFP. “The government can’t convince me in terms of the effectiveness of the testing programme.”

Distrust of officials continues to fuel protests across the world against social-distancing measures, mask-wearing and other regulations.

Several European governments have promised not to try to enforce more lockdowns of the severity seen earlier this year when businesses were forced to close and millions of people were confined to their homes.

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