PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic will reopen the first and second grades of elementary schools on Nov. 18 as the latest data show a drop in new coronavirus cases in Europe’s worst-hit country in the second wave, Education Minister Robert Plaga said on Wednesday.
The country of 10.7 million has struggled to avoid overwhelming its hospitals after recorded daily infections jumped to a peak of over 15,000 in recent weeks and its infection rate led European countries on a per-capita basis.
All schools were ordered closed on Oct. 14 and instruction was moved to distance learning.
“The Czech Republic took the unprecedented step of closing even the first grades of elementary schools when epidemiological models showed the situation as critical,” Plaga told a news conference live on Czech Television.
“The cost of slowing down was heavily borne by the education system and I am glad that we can now, at least by this step, return to presence learning.”
Pupils will have to wear face masks at all times in schools and classes will be ventilated midway through lessons, while music and physical education will not take place, he said.
Higher grades, secondary schools and universities will remain closed for the time being. Kindergartens have remained open.
Czechs still face limits on movement, a night-time curfew, and the closure of sports facilities, restaurants and most shops.
Health Minister Jan Blatny told the news conference that while daily case numbers have likely peaked, hospitalisations would remain high for some time to come due to a delay between positive tests and a worsening of symptoms.
The country reported 9,016 cases for Tuesday, down by 3,000 from the same day a week ago. COVID-19 deaths have grown to around 200 per day in the past days, compared to a long-term average of around 300 deaths from all causes.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)