Children in Europe and around the world must return to school under safe conditions during the pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and European officials said on Monday.
The agency’s European regional office and representatives of its 53 member states held an online conference to discuss how to safeguard children as schools across the continent reopen after lock downs.
“The right to health and the right to education must go hand in hand,” said Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza, Co-host of the conference.
“The safe reopening of schools is the real priority for the coming weeks,” he added.
Speranza said in a joint statement with Hans Kluge, head of the WHO’s Copenhagen-based agency, that the pandemic had “created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries.”
Though children had “largely been spared from the direct health effects of the virus,” school closures had affected their “mental health and social development” and carried “the risk and impact of being in an abusive home environment.”
Children living in poor conditions and those with disabilities were especially hard-hit when schools were closed, the statement said.
Ensuring proper hand hygiene, physical distancing, using masks where appropriate and staying home if sick are among measures that could help reduce the risk of infection.
Online learning would also likely be necessary in future due to temporary school closures or to ensure physical distancing.