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EDUCATION

School to ‘return to normal’ for German kids after summer holidays

Germany is planning for all school pupils to return to school full-time after the summer holidays.

School to 'return to normal' for German kids after summer holidays
A teacher holds a 'welcome back' sign at a school in Schleswig-Holstein on May 6th. Photo: DPA

Schools and kindergartens were closed in Germany at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in March. Although pupils have been slowly returning to the classroom since May as the lockdown has eased, most facilities are far from back to normal operation.

Now the the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of Germany's 16 states say schools should resume regular teaching schedules and get back to normal as much as possible after the end of the summer break, reported the Tagesschau.

Stefanie Hubig, President of the Conference of Education Ministers (KMK) and Rhineland-Palatinate education minister, said there would be a discussion next about what the coming school year could look like.

Hubig said she understood that parents with young children had reached their limits in the past weeks, with many having to juggle childcare, teaching and work.

The situation at schools across states is moving at a different pace but everyone is on the same path, she said.

READ ALSO: State by state: When and how will Germany's schools reopen?

Hesse opens primary schools without distance rule

Hesse is one of the German states that's moving quickly. From June 22nd onwards, pupils in primary schools will be taught together in classrooms again. And the distancing rule will no longer apply to the children, said Hesse state premier Volker Bouffier.

However state education minister Alexander Lorz said that there will be no obligation for parents to send their primary school-age children back to the classroom in the lead up to the summer holidays which start on July 6th in Hesse.

Up until this date, parents can still decide whether they want their child to attend classes or learn from home.

In order to contain the spread of coronavirus, all of Germany's 16 states closed schools and daycare centres (Kitas) in mid-March. Since the beginning of May, teaching in classrooms has resumed, but only to a very limited extent.

Many children only go to school on a weekly basis. Municipalities are able to decide for themselves if social distancing requirements should be put in place.

There's also been some controversy over the speed of education facilities reopening due to uncertainty about how the virus can spread among children.

'We must be prepared for second wave'

There is still some debate over how children can safely return to their classes full-time.

Green Party co-leader Annalena Baerbock, has called for firm guidelines for the return to regular operations.

For example, Kitas and schools must be prepared in case there is an outbreak or second coronavirus wave in autumn, she said.

“We must be prepared for this, so that we do not have to face a situation of complete chaos,” she said.

After speaking with experts from the education sector and trade union, Baerbock said there should be “minimum requirements for regular operation under pandemic conditions”, such as keeping teaching groups as separated as possible.

For parents and employees at schools, distance rules should continue to be observed.

READ ALSO: What to know about the different types of schools as an expat parent

A nationwide coordinated scientific monitoring of the opening of educational institutions is also needed, she said.

Teachers' associations have expressed reservations about returning to classrooms, and have called for measures such as compulsory masks to be used in lessons, or for tests to be carried out on all pupils and teachers.

Vocabulary

Regular operation – (der) Regelbetrieb

The Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of states – Die Kultusminister der Länder

Classroom – (das) Klassenzimmer

Distance rule – (das) Abstandsgebot

Primary school pupils (die) Grundschüler

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

 

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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