Italy’s school pupils and staff are now on their summer break. But when class restarts in September, the health measures aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus look likely to remain unchanged on a year previously.
Though the Italian education ministry has not yet announced any updates to the rules, the government’s advisory panel of scientific experts, the CTS, said “the measures to be applied for the beginning of the school year 2021-2022 should be the same as those foreseen at the beginning of the previous school year”, Rai reports.
This would mean masks for everyone aged over six, single desks and distanced seating, staggered entrance and exit times, and quarantine rules for classes with positive cases, as well as the possibility of some classes still being taught online, depending on the health situation in each local area and the rules provided under Italy’s tiered system of restrictions.
The expert panel noted that vaccinations will likely lead to a reduction in the spread of the virus. However, while 73% of school staff have now had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, experts said it was “currently not possible to predict” how many pupils will have been vaccinated by September.
Italy is currently allowing all local health authorities to offer vaccines to everyone aged over 12, though some regions have said they don’t have the resources to vaccinate these younger age groups immediately.
The CTS recommended to the education ministry that prevention and control measures be kept in place as the reopening of schools will coincide with a “critical period” in the pandemic.
Despite the progress made with vaccinations, it said, the impact of new variants on infection rates, the consequences of summer reopenings and travel, and the return of millions of students and teachers to indoor classrooms “could create the conditions” for a new wave of infections at the beginning of autumn, experts said.
“It is clear that the Delta variant will become prevalent and, probably, between now and September we will see a rise in infections,“ said Agostino Miozzo, a consultant to the education ministry on the management of the pandemic during the last school year, in an interview with Rai .
“Let us not be under any illusions: it will be another year of living in an emergency, the schools open soon and there will be no miracles,” he said.
“Obviously it will not be like last year. We will not see peaks in intensive care admissions or hundreds of deaths a day,” Miozzo said, “but we will still be in an unstable situation, with outbreaks developing”.
He pointed out that “in Italy we have more than 2.5 million over-60s still awaiting vaccination, which is a very serious vulnerability in the face of the arrival of the Delta variant,” he said, adding that many people in the higher-risk older age group may work in education.
Miozzo also predicted that vaccinations could eventually become compulsory for school staff, as is already the case for healthcare workers in Italy.
“I believe that, at this stage, we need a strong moral persuasion towards vaccination, but we must look at obligatory vaccination for those in contact with students,” he said. “So if you have the chance to get vaccinated and you refuse, you can’t go to class.”
He said it was too early to think about requiring compulsory vaccines for students, but stressed that “we need to guarantee all students the opportunity to get vaccinated, from the oldest to the youngest”.
“Of course. we must work hard on communication to reassure parents about the safety of vaccines and the usefulness of protection,” he said.