School closures due to the pandemic have had a disastrous effect on pupils, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) which spoke out against fresh closures in future on Monday.
There should be no further such closures after students go back to school following the summer holidays, according to the WHO and UNICEF, the UN children’s agency.
They called on governments in Europe to ensure that all schools remain open despite the spread of Covid-19.
Measures that can help keep schools open include offering vaccinations to teachers and children over the age of 12, ensuring classrooms are well-ventilated, keeping classes as small as possible, spacing out students and testing them regularly, the organizations said.
The WHO European Region includes 53 countries, from the EU to Turkmenistan, Belarus and Russia.
The pandemic has caused the most catastrophic disruption to schooling in history, said Hans Kluge, WHO Director for Europe.
He said schooling was absolutely essential for young people’s mental health and social skills, as well as their education. Schools make children happy and productive members of society, he said.
Meanwhile he added he was deeply concerned by the spike in case numbers, particularly in countries in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia, that he attributed to the more contagious Delta strain, increased travel and the relaxing of measures in many countries.
The WHO also expressed concern about slowing vaccination campaigns, with some half of the population in the region already vaccinated. The pace of uptake has slowed in the past six weeks, Kluge said. He blamed insufficient production of vaccines, problems of access and lower uptake.
He called on member countries to intervene at a local level.