BERLIN (AP) — At least 41 schools in Berlin have reported that students or teachers have been infected with the coronavirus not even two weeks after schools reopened in the German capital.
The Berliner Zeitung daily published the figures on Friday and the city’s education authorities confirmed the numbers to The Associated Press.
Hundreds of students and teachers are in quarantine, the newspaper reported. Elementary schools, high schools and trade schools are all affected, the newspaper writes. There are 825 schools in Berlin.
The reopening of schools and the possible risks of virus clusters accumulating in educational institutions and then spreading beyond families and further into society has been a matter of great concern and it is an issue that hotly debated in Germany.
Education in Germany is not in the hands of the federal government, but under the auspices of the country’s 16 states and so there are many different COVID-19 rules in place depending on each state, especially regarding wearing of masks. While some states are still on summer vacation, others have been back to school for about two weeks.
Berlin was one of the first places in Germany to reopen its schools after the summer holidays. Children are required to wear masks in the hallways, during breaks and when entering class, but they can remove the masks once they are seated in their seats and lessons begin. Some critics say the measures in Berlin are too relaxed and that students and teachers should also wear masks during lessons.
This is the case in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous in Germany, where around 2.5 million pupils returned to school a few days after Berlin. No exact figures on the number of schools infected with the coronavirus were available in North Rhine-Westphalia, but several schools also had to close classes there due to COVID-19 cases.
In general, Germany is determined not to send schools back to lockdown as was the case in March, even as infection rates rise again. Schools have been ordered to send single students or classes likely to be exposed to quarantine, but the aim is to avoid closing entire schools.
The German government has also said keeping schools open is a top priority and more important than bringing fans back to sports stadiums or allowing large crowds to gather for concerts and other mass events.
The number of coronavirus cases in Germany has been rising again since the end of July. The re-emergence of the virus in the country is driven by travelers returning from abroad and people gathering for social events.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday criticized too many different regulations across the country, saying “people just don’t understand” why they are allowed to do something in Berlin that might be banned in Bavaria. However, plans are underway to harmonize the various COVID-19 rules and come up with applicable regulations across the country.
On Friday, the German Center for Disease Control recorded 1,426 new cases. That was below Thursday’s 1,707 cases, which was the highest number of new daily infections since late April. At the height of the pandemic in late April, Germany had around 6,000 new cases every day.
At least 230,048 people have been infected with the virus in Germany, 9,260 have died, according to the Robert Koch Institute.
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