Closing schools didn’t have anticipated effect

A primary school in Reckange, pictured in May 2020 Matic Zorman

A primary school in Reckange, pictured in May 2020 Matic Zorman

Closing Luxembourg’s schools for a week ahead of the carnival break doesn’t seem to have had the “anticipated strong positive effect,” the covid-19 task force said in a report on Friday. 

In its weekly report to the government, the task force said that infections are “still at a volatile level with a potential of an epidemic rebound.”

This comes at the end of two weeks in which schools, crèches, day care facilities and afterschool activities were closed with a view to stopping virus clusters from developing. Education minister Claude Meisch when announcing the measure said that the infections were spreading more quickly in schools than previously.

The education sector shutdown--with pupils learning from home the week of 8 February--was intended to break infection chains. But already on 18 February the education ministry announced that primary schools in Schifflange would remain closed two more days to allow widespread testing of the school community.

“The daily cases exhibit an increasing trend despite the school break, which was anticipated to decrease social interactions and therefore infections,” the task force said, adding that the numbers suggest social interactions decreased by only around 3% over the past two weeks, less than expected.

Meisch had urged families to minimise outside contacts during the school closure.

The task force includes scientists from Luxembourg’s public research institutions who advise the government on its policies to contain the spread of the coronavirus and prevent the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

The scientists warned that Luxembourg is headed towards a “turning point in the epidemic dynamics”, heightened by the “substantial danger” posed by the more contagious UK variant.

Schools reopen on 22 February but under new conditions, including a mask mandate for all pupils and students. Only pre-school children are exempt; all others must wear a mask at all times. Primary pupils were previously allowed to remove masks when seated at their desks.

There are also stricter quarantine rules in case of a positive test within the school community.

Other virus restrictions--including a nightly curfew, limits on public gatherings and the closure of restaurants and bars--are set to continue until 14 March.