Wearing face masks in classes will be mandatory for students in schools and universities that reopen across Armenia next month, Education Minister Arayik Harutyunyan said on Tuesday, detailing basic health precautions that Armenian authorities plan to put in place at all educational establishments to avoid major coronavirus outbreaks.
All schools, universities, and other general education institutions in Armenia have remained closed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March when they switched to distance learning to ensure the continuity of the educational process.
Minister Harutyunyan said earlier this month that classes in all secondary schools in Armenia as well as in vocational training colleges, music, and art schools will begin on September 15. He said that university classes for freshman students will open on September 1, while all others will start in mid-September.
Presenting coronavirus safety measures in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) on August 18 Harutyunyan said that instead of five days a week, students will attend schools six days a week, which will make it possible to reduce the hours that they spend inside schools. Students’ spending less time at schools will make it possible not to open school canteens, added the minister.
No more than 20 students will be allowed in one classroom and classes will be organized in two shifts, said Harutyunyan.
According to the minister, in physical training and signing classes students will learn only theory, without engaging in practical exercises, which will also reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus.
“These new rules are mandatory for both public and private schools,” Harutyunyan said.
The minister also recommended that two weeks before the start of the classes children and their parents voluntarily self-isolate and limit their contacts “in order not to bring the virus to schools and universities on the very first day of the new academic year and break a possible large chain [of the infection spread].”
“This will most likely allow us not to revert to restrictions at least during the first semester,” Harutyunyan added.
The minister said that authorities will respond to coronavirus cases identified in schools by tracing the contacts of infected students and testing all their classmates. “We will be acting in accordance with the situation…If as a result of testing no spread is revealed among an infected student’s classmates, lessons in this class will not be suspended. But if we do see the spread of the virus, classes for these students will be discontinued and they will continue their studies online,” he said.
The state of emergency introduced in Armenia in March to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus is due to end on September 11. The government has indicated that it will not seek an extension unless the coronavirus situation takes a turn for the worse.
Armenia has recorded more than 42,000 coronavirus cases and 833 deaths since the start of the epidemic. In recent weeks, however, the country’s heath authorities have been reporting decreasing numbers of new COVID-19 cases and fatalities.