After a month-long closure amid a national coronavirus lockdown, Denmark has begun re-opening schools, becoming the first European nation to do so.
However, the re-opening is far from nationwide, as it only concerns nurseries, kindergartens, and primary schools. So far, classes have only been resumed in about half of Denmark's municipalities and in about 35 percent of Copenhagen's schools. Other have requested more time to comply with health protocols still in place. More schools are expected to reopen by April 20.
To mark the return “back to normal”, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made a surprise visit to Lykkebo Skole in Valby outside Copenhagen.
“I'm wildly impressed”, Frederiksen told the newspaper Extra Bladet. “The kids are very happy to see their classmates again”.
She later posted a photograph of her visit on her Facebook page.
“Fortunately, new precautions are taken in the classroom and in the school-yard in a good mood. Some of the children described how hard it was not to be able to give their best friends a hug simply out of happiness to see them again”, she wrote. “That's something I can understand”.
Despite the re-opening, social distancing rules are in place, implying inconveniences for the pupils and a headache for the teachers, who must ensure that the kids never gather in groups of more than two while inside and five outside. Schools are required to ensure that a distance of two metres is maintained between desks in classrooms and recesses must be organised for small groups. Bottles with hand sanitiser are available, and students are encouraged to clean their hands regularly.
While hailed by the authorities and education professionals, the re-opening sparked protests from parents over health issues. A petition “My child is not a guinea pig" has garnered some 18,000 signatures. According to the signatories, some of whom kept their kids at home, children can “easily carry the disease without getting sick”.
“I understand all the emotions behind this, and I'm not going to scold those who have these feelings”, Mette Frederiksen said, recognising that many parents feel worried and insecure. “It's about getting it organised in a way so that many can feel safe. And I can see that many schools and institutions are making every effort to create a safe everyday life”.
Meanwhile, the Danish Teachers' Association has called the re-opening “a frustrating and confusing process” due to conflicting messages from authorities on whether children in the risk group should attend or not, Danish Radio reported.
Earlier in April, Denmark's Social Democrat government pledged a gradual re-opening on the condition that social distancing is maintained and people comply with safety rules that include regular hand washing.
Despite the first portent, malls, bars, restaurans, hairdressers and massage parlours and discos remain closed, groups of more than 10 people are banned.
So far, Denmark has had 6,691 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 309 deaths.