Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis has defended the decision to reopen state schools next week even as coronavirus cases remain high in the European Union member state.
“Although it wasn’t an easy decision to open schools, it was the right one and necessary,” Mr. Iohannis told reporters Wednesday evening at a press conference at the Cotroceni presidential palace.
Schools will fully reopen in 2,728 places, with mandatory spacing between desks and Plexiglas dividers if classrooms are too small.
In 14 places where there are between 1 and 3 Covid-19 cases per 1,000 inhabitants, there will be a mixed system of learning, online and classroom teaching, Health Minister Nelu Tataru said this week, while in 43 places, classes will be online as there are more than three cases for a thousand inhabitants.
Mr. Iohannis said apart from a “series of procedures” to limit contagion, authorities were counting on cooperation from teachers, parents and pupils.
“We can’t reduce the risk of infection to zero, but by respecting basic rules, we can all contribute to the safety of the entire community,” he said.
“Restricting access to education has major consequences for the young generation.”
Mr. Iohannis was a high school physics teacher before he entered politics, first as the mayor of the central city of Sibiu before being elected president in 2014.
Romania reported 1,271 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday and 51 deaths. Schools are scheduled to reopen on Monday after they were closed in March when the virus reached Romania.
Speaking to parents, Mr. Iohannis said: “I encourage you to send your children to school and to tell them that for a while school will be different.”
Asked whether children would get used to wearing masks which will be mandatory, he said: “I am sure they will get used to it very quickly. Children get used to things quickly, even things which aren’t that pleasant.”
Mr. Iohannis said he wouldn’t join traditional ceremonies to mark the new school year and appealed to other politicians to do the same, saying it would send the wrong message and lead to crowding.
The president also touched on local elections which were scheduled for June, but delayed due to the health crisis.
Nationwide local elections will be held on September 27, although some opposition parties have asked for them to be postponed even longer.
“We don’t know how long the pandemic will last and this is why elections can’t be delayed indefinitely,” the president said. “A lack of legitimacy damages local authorities and democracy as a whole.”
He appealed for politicians to run clean campaigns saying that “creating false expectations or contesting health measures are toxic electoral practices which do harm.”