LISBON (Reuters) – Wearing masks and trying to keep a safe distance, more than a million pupils returned to schools across Portugal on Monday, a long-awaited moment for many after students were forced in March to learn remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At the Maria Amalia high school in Lisbon teenagers were called into the classroom one by one and asked to disinfect their hands, while windows were left open.
Standing next to her son as they waited outside, Alexandra Borges said she feared there would be new infections at school but going back to in-person classes was essential for pupils of all ages, including her son Pedro, who brought hand sanitizer inside his backpack.
“It was a little hard because I have a son with special needs which makes things even more complicated,” she said of the home-schooling period. “There were various kids who were depressed, full of desire to go back to school.”
Portugal ordered schools, kindergartens and universities to close in mid-March when a lockdown was imposed to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Classes were replaced with online lessons and daily TV broadcasts of various subjects.
“It was hard on everyone because all of a sudden, without expecting it, we had to stay home,” said Fatima Lopes, principal at the Maria Amalia school.
“We are all trying to do better,” Lopes said. “I doubt we can do it in an exemplary way right from the beginning.”
The number of daily infections has increased in Portugal since the end of the lockdown and is now around the levels last seen in April.
Chemistry teacher Helena Teixeira said one of the biggest challenges will be being unable to stand close to her students and give them personalised support.
“It will be a very serious problem,” Teixeira said as her students sat quietly behind her. “(But) I’m always happy to be with them.”
(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira and Rafael Marchante, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Janet Lawrence)