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HEALTH

Concern grows about distance learning as Italy extends high school closures

Italy on Tuesday postponed the return of high schools as coronavirus restrictions were extended.

Concern grows about distance learning as Italy extends high school closures
High school students will return to attending 50 percent of classes in-person from January 11th. Photo: AFP
Teenagers will return to class on January 11th, instead of January 7th, when younger children go back to school – but then still only for half their classes, under a new government order signed in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
 
 
The other 50 percent of classes will remain online.
 
Several regions have already decided to postpone the return of high schools until the end of January, judging it too risky.
 
The regional authorities of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia said they will keep their high schools closed until at least January 31st.
 
Meanwhile, charity Save the Children issued a warning about the potential negative effects of closing schools.
 
'Severely affected'
 
Italian teens have only been in face-to-face classes for a few months in the past year due to the spring lockdown and further restrictions imposed at the start of a second wave in the autumn.
 
Save the Children warned on Tuesday that the pandemic had “severely affected” the lives of millions of youngsters and said distance learning had caused “perhaps irreparable damage”.
 
 
It published a survey of 14 to 18-year-olds in which 28 percent said they had at least one classmate who stopped attending lessons, warning tens of thousands of school students may be dropping out.
 
The 1,000 teens surveyed cited the difficulty in connecting online and lack of concentration, while 37 percent said their own ability to study had been negatively affected.
 
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Save the Children also warned of the risks to children who do not have the technology or the space at home needed to work online.
 
“We run the risk that long absences from school will turn into permanent abandonment and that many girls and boys in this serious economic crisis will end up swelling the ranks of exploited labour,” said Raffaela Milano, director for Italy-Europe.
 
The government also extended the current ban on moving between regions until at least January 15th, and confirmed bars and restaurants would stay shut over the weekend of January 9-10.
 
The rules were extended as Italy waits for the next set of coronavirus measures to be announced, under the upcoming emergency decree, by January 15th.

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HEALTH

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

Most new cases of monkeypox are currently detected in Western Europe. The World Health Organisation says this is no reason to cancel more than 800 festivals scheduled to take place on the continent this summer.

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

The World Health Organization said Friday that European summer festivals should not be cancelled due to the monkeypox outbreak but should instead manage the risk of amplifying the virus.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from 48 countries in total this year.

“We have all the summer festivals, concerts and many other events just starting in the northern hemisphere,” Amaia Artazcoz, the WHO’s mass gatherings technical officer, told a webinar entitled “Monkeypox outbreak and mass gatherings: Protecting yourself at festivals and parties”.

The events “may represent a conducive environment for transmission”, she said.

“These gatherings have really close proximity and usually for a prolonged period of time, and also a lot of frequent interactions among people,” Artazcoz explained.

“Nevertheless… we are not recommending postponing or cancelling any of the events in the areas where monkeypox cases have been identified.”

Sarah Tyler, the senior communications consultant on health emergencies at WHO Europe, said there were going to be more than 800 festivals in the region, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from different countries.

“Most attendees are highly mobile and sexually active and a number of them will have intimate skin-to-skin contact at or around these events,” she said.

“Some may also have multiple sexual contacts, including new or anonymous partners. Without action, we risk seeing a surge in monkeypox cases in Europe this summer.”

Risk awareness

The UN health agency recommends that countries identify events most likely to be associated with the risk of monkeypox transmission.

The WHO urged festival organisers to raise awareness through effective communication, detect cases early, stop transmission and protect people at risk.

The outbreak in newly-affected countries is primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners, according to the WHO.

People with symptoms are advised to avoid attending gatherings, while people in communities among whom monkeypox has been found to occur more frequently than in the general population should exercise particular caution, it says.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Meg Doherty, from the global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes at WHO, said: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.

“Stigmatising never helps in a disease outbreak,” she added.

“This is not a gay disease. However, we want people to be aware of what the risks are.”

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