Students from Spanish schools and universities will return to classrooms in person when the new course begins on January 10, the Health Minister said on Tuesday, ending speculation that pointed to the record of Covid-19 infections It could activate distance learning.
Cases have reached new highs since the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected about two months ago, raising concerns that children might not be able to return to school after the Christmas break.
The omicron variant accounted for around 43% of cases in the week before Christmas, Spanish health authorities reported Monday. However, those in charge of the 17 Spanish regions, which establish their own health policy, voted entirely in favor of the return to the classroom on Tuesday, in a rare show of unanimity in a country divided by marked political differences.
It is “a meeting to agree between all and all a country decision that has to do with the presence of all our students from next January 10 throughout the national territory,” the Minister of Health told reporters, Carolina Darias, after the regional meeting.
Masks will be mandatory at all times and schools must guarantee adequate ventilation, while regional administrations will work to cover possible absences of teachers due to infections, he said.
The nationwide infection rate, measured over the past 14 days, rose to a new record of 2,296 cases per 100,000 people on Monday, a more than 10-fold increase since early December.
The pressure on hospitals is mounting, but it is still a long way from the highs recorded a year ago. Intensive care occupancy reached 21.2% on Monday, compared to 8% a month ago, but below half the maximum of 43% registered last January.
More than 90% of Spaniards over 12 years of age have received the full dose of the vaccine, according to data from the Ministry of Health, while slightly less than a third of children between 5 and 11 years of age have received their first dose since Spain began vaccinating that age group in mid-December.