• With schools reopened around the world, the World Health Organization offers advice on how to do it safely.
  • The key is to take prompt action if a child or teacher becomes infected.
  • And to maintain social distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene.
  • UNESCO estimates that 117 million children were still not in school in September.

With many schools open again, the challenge is to keep COVID-19 out of the classroom as much as possible.

More than 100,000 British children were reportedly absent from school due to coronavirus in September – the most school absences the UK has experienced during the pandemic, says The Guardian.

In the same month, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that, although many schools had reopened, school closures still meant that 117 million children – 7.5% of the global school-age population – had no schooling at all. Even where schools have reopened, many only provide part-time teaching. Indeed, only 35% of the world’s children were able to attend school full-time in September, the agency said.

So what can be done to keep schools open and COVID-safe? Here’s the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Protect the community

WHO says the starting point is to remember that schools operate within their communities. So measures to limit the spread of the virus and protect the community at large are the foundation of efforts to allow schools to continue to function.

this diagram shows how to keep children and staff protected at school
How to stay safe at school. Image: WHO

“Schools operate in communities and the first thing is to make sure we try to drive transmission down as much as possible in those communities,” says Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead, “because the individuals that work at those schools live in the communities.”

Communication is critical

Schools should have systems in place to monitor the health of students and staff, to detect cases and ensure children who are unwell stay at home, says Dr Kerkhove. Communication is critical so that students, teachers and parents know what to do to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

WHO emphasizes the importance of disinfection, improving ventilation, distancing and wearing masks. Testing and contact tracing should be part of the school’s response to the virus, says Dr Kerkhove, so that children who have come into contact with the virus can quarantine.

Vaccinate where possible

People should ensure they get vaccinated, where the vaccine is available, says Dr Kerkhove, and the WHO believes teachers should be a priority for vaccination.

While acknowledging the global vaccine inequity, she says that “WHO’s recommendation is to get vaccinated when it’s your turn and to make sure that you receive the full course of the vaccination”.

Talk to your children about the risks

Parents and carers have a vital role to play in protecting children from the virus, she says. All the measures advocated for the wider community can also help protect its youngest members – including distancing, good hand hygiene, wearing a mask and avoiding crowded places where possible.

coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications - a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

Adults should talk to children (depending on their age) about the risks and explain how they can stay safe, says Dr Kerkhove. “Remember, anyone can be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including children, and they can pass the virus to others,” she says. “All of us have a role to play in reducing the possibility of the spread of COVID-19.”