Evidence on the impact of school closures on children and the effectiveness of infection prevention and control measures being implemented in schools is now emerging. The WHO Regional Office for Europe and the Government of Italy jointly convened a high-level meeting on 31 August 2020 to discuss the situation and share experiences. Member States agreed to establish a network of experts to collate and review the emerging evidence on best practices and the potential negative effects of school reopening. A technical advisory group (TAG) was convened to review the evidence and make recommendations for a second high-level meeting, to be held in late November 2020. SHE is represented in TAG by manager Anette Schulz together with national coordinator and board member Ivana Pavic Simetin.
The first TAG meeting was held 26 October and the second meeting will take place 12 November. The overall objective of the two TAG meetings and the high-level meeting of ministers of health and education is to ensure that children’s lives and educational processes in the European Region are as unaffected and uninterrupted as possible, while simultaneously ensuring the safety of children, educators, other school staff and communities by keeping COVID-19 transmission under control.
The following summary points were made at the first meeting:
- children and adolescents are not considered primary drivers of transmission of SARS-CoV-2;
- school closures are not considered to be an effective single measure for the control of COVID-19;
- evidence suggests that community transmission drives school transmission, and cases in school reflect transmission in the community;
- testing strategies in schools need to focus on vulnerable groups and follow up of identified clusters of infection;
- widespread testing of school-aged children with respiratory symptoms is not feasible;
- severe cases in children are very rare;
- it will be particularly important to look at and consider the adverse effects of school closures and other control measures on children’s education outcomes and mental and social well-being, and to minimize these effects where possible in the future;
- children in vulnerable situations are affected disproportionately by control measures; and
- children and adolescents need to be involved in decisions on any measures concerning them and school.