Northern Ireland is extending the autumn break and will keep students from school on Monday, a week earlier than planned. The country is doing this after experts announced that this could help reduce the number of corona infections. Flemish Minister of Education, Ben Weyts, does not want to know anything about it.
With us the autumn holidays run from Saturday October 31 to Sunday November 8. At the end of September, people in the Netherlands – where the autumn holidays also last a week – were voting to add a week. “This way you can reduce the number of infections,” said microbiologist Bert Mulder, member of the Red Team, a kind of council of independent experts who advise the Dutch government. “It would interrupt the spread, give some relief to testing and source and contact research.”
Our northern neighbors then assumed that schools were sources of contamination, which would explicitly not be the case with us, Minister Ben Weyts has assured us repeatedly. “Infections are usually detected outside the school walls earlier than inside,” says Weyts. “In a controlled environment, such as in the schools, the security measures are better enforced,” he said before our camera.
The Minister of Education is certainly not happy to start the autumn holiday a week earlier, also because families have prepared themselves for the current holiday, which starts on October 31 and the weather would require a lot of planning to get everything organized for an extra week. For example, parents should take extra leave themselves.
However, according to a recently published British study, a two-week ‘break’ could temporarily slow the epidemic. The researchers call it a ‘circuit breaker’, a kind of pause button that is pressed for two weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus and that limits the social and economic consequences compared to a longer lockdown. Those two weeks of unspecified stricter measures would overlap with the week of the autumn holiday to limit the consequences for education as well. Please note: such an interruption only causes a delay. When the reins are released afterwards, the virus will have free rein and infections will rise again. But in the meantime, the pressure on hospitals is being eased and a more efficient contact investigation could reduce the number of admissions and deaths.
In addition to Northern Ireland, which in practice extends the autumn holiday by a week and also closes the catering industry for four weeks, Germany is also thinking about this. Our eastern neighbors have already suggested an extension of the Christmas holidays by two to even four weeks. To compensate, the summer holidays would then be shortened. For the time being it will remain an idea.
A study by professor of biostatistics Niel Hens (UHasselt, UAntwerpen) in 2018 showed that an extra week of Christmas holidays would reduce the number of flu infections by four percent. It is not known whether this would also be the case with SARS-CoV-2. With the flu, children are the engine of the epidemic, with the corona virus not. The contamination figures in education also seem to confirm this. In the period from September 28 to October 11, a total of 1,795 Flemish students (0.15 percent) and 411 staff members (0.25 percent) were infected. “Most infections can be traced back to outside the school,” says biostatistician Geert Molenberghs (UHasselt / KU Leuven). “The figures show that the school is not the engine of the epidemic.”
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