A workman sweeps the yard of the Belmont Government Primary School on Wednesday, as upgrades to the school are being done in preparation for next month’s reopening of schools to children sitting exams later this year.

Rishard Khan

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Schools are on track to reopen come February 8 despite the arrival of the recent case of the new COVID-19 UK variant in the country.

The decision to go ahead with the planned reopening came after the Ministry of Education met with Ministry of Health officials yesterday. In a statement to Guardian Media following the meeting, Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said: “The discussions today were centred around ensuring that all protocols would be very clear for reopening. Based on the present numbers, there is no indication that the plan to reopen on February 8th cannot proceed, new variant notwithstanding.”

Gadsby-Dolly indicated that there was the possibility that a blended, shift approach would be used for secondary school students.

“For the secondary schools, at our meetings with stakeholders, it was suggested that the emphasis on physical classes be for labs and SBAs, while students could continue most of the conceptual work online,” Gadsby-Dolly said.

“Of course, this would vary by school. Therefore, for secondary school, the presence of students in the compound could be more easily staggered.

“For primary school, however, the situation is different, and so the Ministry of Education will work with the Ministry of Health to ensure that the protocols are very clearly outlined and understood, as we work to avoid premature school closure.”

The minister anticipates that by early next week, the guidelines for reopening should be available for schools “in anticipation of a February 8th start if all goes well.”

Only yesterday, the Ministry of Health announced that a national who returned from the United Kingdom had tested positive for the new variant of the virus and was now being treated at the Couva Hospital.

Schools were closed one day after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in T&T on March 13, 2020, by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. They remain closed to date as teachers are conducting virtual classes, which began in September. On July 20, 2020, the Ministry of Education attempted to restart classes for Standard Five students in preparation for the then rescheduled SEA examination but it was short-lived as several COVID-19 outbreaks occurred in at least 12 schools, forcing the termination of that plan.