Virologist: Decision to open schools was premature
Groningen virologist Bert Niesters said he did not think it was wise to make a definitive decision to reopen primary and secondary schools on schedule immediately after the winter break, given the growing number of coronavirus infections. He said he understands that the Cabinet is concerned about the learning disadvantages that arise from moving education online, and that there was considerable political pressure placed on the Cabinet. "But if classes are immediately sent home and schools start to close, we will have to again wait and see what they will say," Niesters stated.
"I would say that the final decision would have been better at the end of this week," he continued. "The infections are still increasing, the minister also says, and we also have to [give everyone Covid-19 vaccine boosters]," he said. The virologist was unwilling to look one week ahead. "Certainly in the Randstad, especially Amsterdam, there are still many infections," said Niesters. "A peak is expected in mid-January."
An average of 14,929 people tested positive for the coronavirus each of the past seven days, a 23 percent increase compared to a week ago. At the same time, new hospitalizations for Covid-19 fell to an average of 167 per day. Although that figure is still high, it is the lowest number in over two months.
Niesters said he did not understand why primary and secondary education was allowed to reopen, but higher education will remain closed. He was concerned that the Cabinet is constantly going back and forth with their coronavirus policy. "There has never been a target number for the number of infections at which decisions are made; No answer to the question, 'Where are we going?'"
The consequences of the spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus may seem less serious, but Niesters wondered what the dangers are, especially for seniors. They are generally more vulnerable if they are infected with coronavirus and are therefore more at risk if the infections at the schools increase again.
Dennis Wiersma, who is expected to take over as the minister in charge of primary and secondary education, said he was happy that the caretaker Cabinet reopened schools for younger students. He added that he was "extremely motivated" to keep it that way. Catching up with the backlog that coronavirus has caused in education over the past eighteen months is one of "the biggest challenges" for the incoming government, he said.
Reporting by ANP.