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Armenian Schools, Universities Reopen After COVID-19 Shutdown


Armenia -- A teacher measures a first grader's temperature at the entrance to a school in Yerevan, September 14, 2020.

Schools and universities across Armenia reopened their doors to students on Tuesday six months after being closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Classes for first graders and university freshman students began earlier this month.

Virtually all Armenian educational establishments switched in March to online classes that continued until the end of the last academic year in June.

The Armenian government decided last month to end the shutdown amid a falling number of coronavirus cases in the country. The downward trend has continued since then.

The government set strict sanitary and hygienic rules for all schools, universities and vocational training colleges. In particular, there can be no more than 20 schoolchildren in a classroom at a time and all of them must be seated apart and wear face masks during classes.

School administrations have to provide students with hand sanitizers and regularly disinfect classrooms. They must also ensure that all teachers get tested for COVID-19.

The mandatory testing of Armenia’s 30,000 or so schoolteachers began a week ago. Teachers found to be infected with the disease must self-isolate or be hospitalized, if necessary.

The Ministry of Education reported on Monday that 1,280 teachers have been allowed to continue working online because of their old age and/or chronic diseases.

The government rules also allow those students who are chronically ill or have infected family members to stick to distance learning. More than 2,400 of the country’s 397,607 secondary and high school students have qualified for such exemptions, according to the ministry.

An RFE/RL correspondent witnessed widespread non-compliance with some of the rules at Yerevan’s Secondary School No. 197. Teachers there admitted that a single COVID-19 infection could trigger an outbreak of the potentially deadly respiratory disease.

In one of the school’s classrooms, most students did not wear face masks. Both their teacher and the school’s acting principal, Svetlana Nahatakian, had masks on but did not wear them correctly.

“We can understand the kids,” Nahatakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. She said that hot weather makes mask-wearing very difficult.

By contrast, all students of another class wore masks. “It’s better to be safe and stay away from the virus,” said one of them, the 10-year-old Helena. Her masked classmates felt more uncomfortable.

Armenia -- High school students in Yerevan wear face masks, September 15, 2020.
Armenia -- High school students in Yerevan wear face masks, September 15, 2020.

Boys standing in the courtyard of the nearby High School No. 198 put on masks only after noticing a reporter’s camera. But inside the school everyone seemed to respect the rule, even if there too many students complained that masks cause them too much inconvenience.

“We explain to them that it’s temporary and we need to adapt,” said the school principal, Sargis Khachatrian.

Khachatrian admitted that it is not easy to enforce the anti-epidemic requirement. “Apart from teaching courses and doing your normal work, you also have to act like an overseer because you bear responsibility for your and other people’s health,” he said.

Wearing face masks in all public spaces -- both indoors and outdoors -- has been mandatory in Armenia since June. The government kept this and other restrictions in place when it lifted a coronavirus-related state of emergency on September 11.

The Ministry of Health said earlier on Tuesday 150 more Armenians have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, sharply down from an average of 550-600 cases a day registered in the first half of July and roughly 250 daily infections recorded in early August.

Since the start of the pandemic the ministry has reported a total of 46,119 coronavirus cases and 920 deaths in the country of about 3 million.

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