"It is difficult with these numbers," says professor Yeşim Taşova, commenting on the resumption of in-person classes as Turkey strives to reopen schools for all grades.
Though daily coronavirus cases occasionally decrease, the pandemic lingers on and continues to pose a lethal threat.
Taşova, a member of Turkey's Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, which shapes all government policies on fighting the outbreak, says the board is considering new restrictions for in-person education – except classes for kindergarten students and first graders.
On Sept. 21, the country's first in-person classes were launched for them in what will be a critical test for authorities in light of the ongoing pandemic.
The country plans to gradually ensure a return to school for millions of students in the coming weeks, based on the course of progress.
Strict measures aimed at preventing further infections are expected to allow for further reopening following the closure of schools since March. Fearing a serious gap in education, Turkey decided to join other countries for a reopening that was originally scheduled for Aug. 31. A heightened caseload, however, forced a postponement until Sept. 21.
The reopening week saw kindergarten and first-grade students arrive for just one day and two days of classes the following. Meanwhile, the number of students in each classroom has been reduced with separate school hours for students. Every class lasts only 30 minutes, with 10-minute breaks in between. All older grades are continuing courses online.
Education has been a major casualty of the pandemic, with experts repeatedly calling for conditions to prevail to allow for the resumption of in-person classes.
Though Turkey has managed to run a relatively successful online education program since the last school year, many say students should interact more with their teachers and classmates to guarantee better learning. The Education Ministry has thus spent months working on various plans on how best to reopen schools without risk.
Taşova told İhlas News Agency (IHA) Wednesday that many countries had opted for online education in the first semester of the school year because "everyone wants to know what they might expect ahead."
She says their current criteria were based on the "speed" of the outbreak and people's ability to comply with measures.
"It is proportionate with age. The younger the person, the less negligent they will be in terms of following the rules. Certainly, the disease is less severe for young people and children, but they still pose a risk for older family members," she said.
Turkey recorded 1,467 new coronavirus cases and 68 deaths in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said Tuesday.
The number of total cases has reached 317,272, with 278,504 total recoveries, according to ministry data. With the 68 new fatalities, the death toll from the virus reached 8,130. A total of 114,940 more coronavirus tests were conducted over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to over 10.2 million. The figures also showed that the number of patients in critical condition remained at 1,583 with 6.5% suffering from pneumonia.
Taşova says they need to "discuss again" the possibility of in-person classes for all based on current trends. "I believe some restrictions will be inevitable," she added.
Meanwhile, Taşova says university students would better adapt to measures and may be safe to begin in-person classes sooner.
Based on pandemic trends, Turkey is considering a "hybrid" education model, with live online classes and in-person classes on different days and flexible school hours.
School closures have been common across the world throughout the outbreak, but the United Nations has warned of "a generational catastrophe" as a result.
The danger of eating out
Turkey rolled out its normalization process in June, with various businesses, such as restaurants and cafes reopening under "new normal" rules aimed at preventing further infections.
Yet, professor Tevfik Özlü, a member of the Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, warns that people still need to be cautious against the "unsafe" practice of dining out.
"It is not safe to have meals at the same table. Everyone should occupy only one table and keep a distance from others as much as possible," Özlü told Demirören News Agency (DHA) Wednesday, adding that the Turkish tradition of hosting lavish dinners at home or mass dinners at restaurants would provide "an opportunity" for the virus to spread.
"Naturally, you cannot wear masks while eating. You are basically unprotected. Keeping distance while sharing a table is almost impossible. Even if you don't eat or drink and solely chats, it is still a risk due to droplets that may come out of your mouth or mouth of the person opposite you," he says.
Özlü urged the public to opt for only eating meals at home and said if they wished to host dinners, then these ought not to be held at the same table as others.
"While eating out, you are only safe if you are assured of measures at the venue. Check if waiters properly cover their mouths. Check the kitchen staff too. Any droplet from their mouth will make eating there unsafe," he warned.
Turkish authorities yesterday introduced new restrictions that expanded the use of code to track down COVID-19 patients. People will now be required to show their HES code while traveling on inner-city mass transit or while staying at hotels and other accommodation facilities across the country under the new set of restrictions.
HES code, an abbreviation for Hayat Eve Sığar (Life Fits Into Home) app developed by Health Ministry, is a unique code that can be downloaded via an eponymous app. It certifies the health of the user, whether the person is suffering from coronavirus or not. The code is already mandatory for inter-city travel.
The code will be integrated into electronic passes used in mass transit, from the metro to the buses. The electronics passes of COVID-19 patients will remain suspended during the stay-at-home isolation period. The move aims to discourage quarantine breakers, who have been a common sight in some cities.
Hotels will also be barred from accepting customers who are unable to show their HES code. Hotels and other accommodation facilities accepting such customers will be shut down for 10 days.
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