May 15, 2020 / 12:57 PM / in 13 days

Back to school for Belgian children with face masks and temperature checks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Some children, many with face masks, returned to school on Friday as Belgium further eased a two-month coronavirus lockdown.

A teacher takes the children's temperature at the entrance of a flemish primary school during its reopening as a small part of Belgian children head back to their schools with new rules and social distancing during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brussels, Belgium May 15, 2020.REUTERS/Johanna Geron

With a population of 11.5 million, Belgium is one of the worst virus-hit European nations. It started lifting some of the restrictions at the start of May.

Primary and secondary schools have been given the green light to restart smaller classes of final-year pupils under strict social distancing rules next week, although some did a trial run on Friday.

At the Nellie Melba primary school in Brussels, 7-year-old Lena smiled gingerly as a white-masked teacher tested her temperature before letting her into the premises, while another teacher pointed out direction arrows painted on the floor as part of social distancing measures.

“My daughter is very happy to go back to school because it was difficult for her not to see her friends and her teacher. Now she is too small to put on a mask. Fortunately, she has no health problems so I am reassured,” Lena’s mother and hospital counsellor Vanessa del Carpio said.

“For me, it is important that children can come to school if they are in good health. It is necessary for their development,” she said.

School director Rita Janssens said the school, which has 200 students, has taken protective measures.

“For example, for teachers, we have provided them with face shields as well as masks. The secretariat is equipped with a screen, and of course, all the classes are equipped with hand hygiene products so that the children can wash their hands and the professors can protect themselves,” she said.

“When the children come back, we will also take their temperature so that we can be sure that no sick child or teacher enters the school,” Janssens said.

She said of the 55 pupils expected to come to school on Friday, only 34 showed up. The school expects a full house on Monday.

Belgium, whose capital Brussels hosts the headquarters of the European Union and the NATO military alliance, has to date reported 54,644 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,959 deaths.

Additional reporting by Johanna Geron; Writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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