WHO urges safety measures as Europe goes back to school

EU countries vote to reimpose restrictions on non-essential travel from US due to Covid surge

The World Health Organisation (WHO)has urged European countries to use vaccinations, ventilation, masks and distancing measures in schools to ensure that they are kept open as children return to classrooms across the continent while Covid-19 rates rise.

A combination of the more transmissible Delta variant, the easing of restrictions, and summer travel is driving significant growth in Covid-19 infections in most of the 53 countries in the WHO's Europe region, which includes the EU, UK and Russia.

One “reliable projection” forecasts 236,000 deaths in the region by December 1st, the body warned.

It came as European Union countries voted to reimpose restrictions on non-essential travel from the US, where Covid-19 infection has been sweeping through the unvaccinated population – a non-binding measure that leaves member states leeway to set their own rules.


There was an 11 per cent increase in deaths from Covid-19 last week in the Europe region, according to the WHO, as rollouts of vaccinations have slowed, with parts of the population still unprotected.

"We must be steadfast in maintaining multiple layers of protection, including vaccination and masks. Vaccines are the path towards reopening societies and stabilising economies," urged WHO Europe director Dr Hans Kluge. "Vaccine scepticism and science denial are holding us back from stabilising this crisis."


Dr Kluge called on European countries to vaccinate teachers, school staff and children aged over 12, and for “all necessary measures to be taken such that schools are open and remain open”.

Face masks, ventilation, vaccination, regular testing of children and staff, smaller class sizes where possible, physical distancing, sanitation and hand hygiene should all be employed, he said.

In the EU 76 per cent of adults have now had at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) .

Ireland has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the EU with the rate of fully vaccinated adults approaching 90 per cent.

Much of western Europe is not far behind, and in France, Denmark, Italy and Spain half of children aged 12 and over have also received a jab.

However, in parts of eastern Europe the take-up of vaccines is much lower: in Romania only 32.8 per cent of adults have received a vaccine, while in Bulgaria the figure is just 21.8 per cent, according to ECDC figures.

Across the continent governments are acting to try to reduce the risk of a rise in infections, hospitalisations and deaths as the resumption of school and university terms brings large groups of people into close contact once again. The UK, Germany and France are preparing to provide booster Covid-19 jabs to the vulnerable.

French and Dutch universities have set up walk-in vaccination centres for students, while in Berlin a special S-Bahn “vaccination train” provided passengers with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine as it circulated the city centre on Monday as authorities sought to boost take-up.


Italy has made its Covid-19 Green Pass mandatory in universities, meaning that students and staff must have either been vaccinated, tested negative, or be certified as having recovered from the disease. This is also compulsory for teachers and staff in schools, and later this week will be required for passengers to board long-distance buses and trains.

France has also made Covid-19 passes mandatory for waiters and other service workers from this week, extending the use of a certificate that is already required to access restaurants, bars, intercity trains and various public venues.

The measures have been the focus of weekly protests in France, and there have been similar demonstrations in Italy and Germany.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times