New term, new rules as first German schools return amid pandemic

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Rostock (Germany), Aug. 3, 2020 Tens of thousands of schoolchildren are returning to school in northern Germany from Monday, as the end of the summer holidays brings with it a major test in managing the coronavirus pandemic.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the first of Germany’s 16 states to end its summer break, and the region’s 152,700 pupils will all return to class for the first time since schools were closed in response to the outbreak in mid-March.

In order to minimize the risk of infection, pupils have been divided into set groups which are not to intermix, although social-distancing rules have been lifted within those groups.

Jan Bonin, head teacher at the Reutershagen grammar school in the city of Rostock, said he was confident that they were getting off to a good start.

“Masks are compulsory in the halls of the building,” Bonin told dpa, adding that students who were nervous or unsure of the new norms were being greeted by teachers and receiving support.

He said there would be no tolerance for students who do not wear a mask.

Several islands in the northern-most state of Schleswig-Holsten are also resuming classes on Monday, with the port city of Hamburg to follow on Thursday.

Schools in Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg join next week, as well as in the country’s most populous state of North Rhine Westphalia in the west and the rest of Schleswig-Holstein.

It will be up to the states whether masks are made compulsory in schools.

Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer on Monday welcomed the plans of some states to introduce such rules.

“Making masks mandatory sounds like a sensible consideration,” she told reporters in Berlin.

Germany’s state-by-state return to school comes as infections are creeping up again in the country, with the number of new daily cases surpassing 500 on Monday, making for a total confirmed caseload of 210,402.

Referring to this trend, Demmer said, “Of course it is a challenging task for states and municipalities, who have to deliver the right to an education for all students while of course simultaneously continuing to ascribe great importance to protecting health.” (dpa/NAN)

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