Norway opens first schools after six-week coronavirus closure

AFP/The Local
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Norway opens first schools after six-week coronavirus closure
Students will return to schools across Norway, such as Ila Skole in Oslo. Photo: nils2911/wikimedia commons

Norway, which says it has the new coronavirus epidemic under control, reopened primary schools to the youngest students on Monday, in another step toward a gradual normalisation, though some parents expressed concern.


One week after nursery schools, pupils aged six to 10 started returning to their school desks after six weeks of remote learning from home in the Nordic country.
Classes were however reduced to a maximum of 15 students.
At the Levre school in the residential suburb of Baerum outside Oslo, children streamed back to school in the rain.
Outside the building, flowers painted on the ground marked the social distancing guidelines to be respected, one of several playful reminders of the threat posed by the illness.
Tilde, 7, was bursting with impatience to reconnect with her friends and teachers at 9.00 am.
"She was ready at 6 o'clock this morning, three hours early. She was so excited to go back. No alarm clock, we didn't need that," her mother Karine Rabbe told AFP.
Signs hung at the entrance welcomed the students back to school. "Nice to have you back," they read. 
One poster featured a rainbow with the text "Everything will be fine" in Norwegian.


At Rommen school in Oslo's Groruddalen district, head teacher Leif Arild Haaland told the VG newspaper, that he had had to make big changes to how the school operates to meet the infection guidelines published by the Directorate of Education. 
"We have structured the day based on the infection control supervisor who came to visit us," he said. "The pupils are divided into groups of maximum 15 pupils. Now no groups have 15. The school playground is divided, and there is a lot of focus on hygiene." 
Previously pupils in the first years had shared tables rather than desks, but now desks have been taken from the higher top five years (who have yet to return to school) so that every pupil can have a desk. 
"There is increased staffing," he told VG. "There are two adults in each classroom who will receive their groups." 
Norway has progressively begun lifting restrictions imposed on March 12 to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Hair salons and dermatologists were also authorised to resume business.


Many measures remain in place, such as bans on sporting and cultural events, as well as social distancing and hygiene recommendations.   
"We should not let down our guard, we have to work hard to keep the spread under control," Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Friday.
"If we're not careful, this could have serious consequences for others. In the worst of cases, we'll have to tighten restrictions again. We'll have to make sure to avoid that."
Some parents however find the return to school premature, noting that several staff at nursery schools have tested positive for the virus since they went back last week.
"It wouldn't surprise me that it gets worse when the schools reopen," one user wrote on the Facebook page "My child should not be a guinea pig for COVID-19" that has almost 30,000 members.
Haaland told VG that several parents had got in touch before the opening to inform them that 
"Some have got into and I think that is quite natural," he said. "Now we're just getting everyone in. Then we'll have a ring around to those who have not shown up and hear what it will take to get them to come back to school, or if there are questions they are wondering about." 
Kathrine Wilsher Lohre, the head teacher at Levre school, also said that she was not surprised some parents were worried.
"There is anxiety in society everywhere. That's why information is very important," she told AFP. "Under the circumstances, it's as safe as it can be."
By Sunday, Norway had reported 7,505 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 193 deaths, while the curve of hospitalised cases has dropped significantly in recent weeks.


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