In Depth

Coronavirus: Denmark’s ‘children experiment’ offers end to lockdowns

Scandinavian country reopens schools for younger students

Denmark has become the first European country under lockdown to start reopening schools, triggering conflict between health officials and concerned parents.

Around 650,000 children have returned to daycare centres and primary schools in the first phase of the Danish government’s reopening strategy, as the authorities point to the success of the Nordic nation’s swift response to the pandemic.

Denmark imposed a nationwide lockdown on 11 March - “before it had even reported its first death”, says The Independent.  

But while Denmark has been cited as an example to emulate for other nations, not everyone is convinced, with many parents claiming on social media that their children are being used as “Covid-19 guinea pigs”. 

What is the current situation in Denmark?

Kindergartens and the first five forms in primary schools were reopened on 15 April across Denmark, which “has not seen the same levels of coronavirus fatalities as has rocked the west of the continent”, says The Independent. 

A total of 8,210 infections and 403 Covid-19 deaths had been reported so far, according to latest figures. 

However, while younger children have been sent back to classrooms, the Danish government says that children aged over 12 must remain at home for now.

Universities are also to stay closed until at least 10 May, along with churches, cinemas and shopping malls.

Meanwhile, kindergartens and primary schools have been issued with “a list of government instructions designed to minimise the risk of children spreading the virus amongst each other”, The Telegraph reports.

Parents are asked to drop their children off at the front gates in a staggered system, and are not allowed to enter school buildings.

Children must wash their hands as soon as they arrive, and every two hours after, and must stay in small groups when playing outside. In classes, pupils must sit at desks or tables at least two metres apart.

“At the same time, they are not allowed to bring toys from home, and the nurseries or school’s own toys and equipment has to be disinfected twice a day, along with surfaces such as sinks, toilet seats and door handles,” says the newspaper, which adds: “All this is putting a strain on the teachers who are required to make sure their charges follow the rules.” 

“Every time you look around, the kids are touching each other,” said one teacher. “How many times can you tell them off for that?”

And the wider reaction?

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen last week insisted that the school reopenings, undertaken on health authority recommendations, would allow many parents to return to work and “get the economy going again”.

But as The Telegraph notes: “Understandably, there has been some anxiety among parents being asked to take part in this experiment.”

“A number of Facebook groups have been set up by worried parents, including one under the name ‘my child will not be a Guinea pig for Covid-19’, which already has over 39,000 members,” adds The Independent. 

“I won’t be sending my children off no matter what,” said the group’ founder, mother-of-two Sandra Andersen.

All th same, attendance rates are back to 90% in many schools, indicating that most parents trust the new system.

Will the UK follow suit?

Speculation surrounding when and how UK schools can safely reopen has become “increasingly fraught as the lockdown has persisted”, as The Guardian notes.

But for now, at least, it looks it unlikely that the UK will follow Denmark’s lead.

The general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said this week that the earliest schools might realistically reopen would be in June after half-term.

“It can only happen when supported by the science, and there will need to be a lead-in time of several weeks to ensure it is carefully planned,” Geoff Barton said. 

“It is then going to be necessary to maintain social distancing in schools as much as possible. It is likely that we will need to reintroduce certain year groups in the first instance, rather than fully reopening schools to all pupils.”

The Department for Education has refused to speculate about when such a process might begin.

“They will remain closed, except for children of critical workers and the most vulnerable children, until the scientific advice changes and we have met the five tests set out by government to beat this virus,” a spokesperson said. 

“We will work in close consultation with the sector to consider how best to reopen schools, nurseries and colleges when the time is right so that parents, teachers and children have sufficient notice to plan and prepare.”

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