Catalonia will eliminate quarantines in schools

Paediatricians consider current protocols unsustainable and also demand the removal of masks and suspending mass testing

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A group of students at a school in Barcelona.

BarcelonaThe anticovid measures in schools have caused a stir among families and paediatricians. The former have been demanding laxer measures for some time, but now doctors are also beginning to ask the authorities to relax the restrictions that only affect minors. Faced with this collective demand, and coinciding with the slow improvement of epidemiological indicators, the Government is willing to eliminate quarantines of students in the coming days. Executive spokeswoman Patrícia Plaja announced on Tuesday that the Generalitat will inform the Spanish Ministry of Health about the need to update protocols in schools now that the sixth wave is losing in intensity and most of the restrictions for adults have been removed. "It is necessary to modify protocols in schools and that children who do not have any symptoms or are positive can continue to attend class," he said. For the Government, the ideal scenario would be for this modification to be coordinated throughout the State, since most anticovid decisions require the ministry's approval. However, Plaja has warned that if the Spanish government rejects the Catalan proposal at the Interterritorial Health Council on Wednesday, Catalonia will push ahead with the change anyway.

The Catalan Society of Paediatrics believes it is unsustainable to maintain the current ad hoc protocols for schools any longer. In a statement, it calls for an end to measures such as the use of masks in class and in the playground or the organisation of children in groups of stable coexistence. The goal is for the virus to be treated like any other respiratory disease in the classroom and only children with symptoms to stay at home. Within the group, however, there are also paediatricians who request measures not be eased until the vaccination rate increases, which is 41.3% among children aged 5 to 11 and 75% among those aged 12 to 15 (percentages of first doses). On the other hand, all agree that the mass screening strategy that was launched at the beginning of the second quarter in health centres and pharmacies should be suspended.

The Catalan Society of Paediatrics argues that, while society practically does not have to make changes in their daily lives because the dominant variant now, Omicron, is less severe and allows softening of the restrictions, children are subjected to "a comparative grievance" and to protocols approved in essence in September 2020 that not only hinder the management of schools but also the families work-life balance due to preventive quarantine in case of a close contact. Paediatricians stress that covid is "mostly mild" in children and that acquired immunity in the paediatric population is "very high, either by previous infection or vaccination".

On the other hand, the organisation insists, specific restrictions in schools have "negative effects on fundamental areas for children, such as learning, socialisation or mental and emotional health". For all these reasons, the organisation calls for the elimination of masks both in the playground and in the classroom, the elimination of stable coexistence groups – which limit contact between students from different classes – and contact quarantines in schools and in children's leisure activities.