Bulgaria’s caretaker Health Minister: All pupils back to class on December 6, once-weekly Covid tests

School pupils in Bulgaria from the first to 12th grades will return to in-person classes on December 6, with testing for Covid-19 at the start of each week, caretaker Health Minister Stoicho Katsarov said on December 2, according to a report by Bulgarian National Radio.

“Experts believe that instead of double testing, one-time testing can be done at the beginning of the week. This is likely to increase the risk slightly, but this is a negligible increase in risk, not a serious threat to the overall epidemic situation,” Katsarov said.

He said that the registered incidence of Covid-19 in children younger than 19 was “extremely low,” while the tests done in schools in the past two weeks had shown a low percentage of positive results.

Katsarov said that “gentle” – meaning, non-intrusive, saliva-based – tests would be provided for everyone. Adult nasal tests could be used for older pupils, but that had to be decided by the Education Ministry, he said.

According to Katsarov, the available quantities of tests would enable all pupils in the country to go to school from December 6 with one test a week.

He said that an amendment to the order on school attendance would be posted on December 2.

The system put in place several weeks ago was to allow pupils in the first to fourth grades to return to in-person learning, provided that they were tested twice a week. For a class to go ahead, at least half the parents of the pupils had to agree to the children being tested.

For weeks, Bulgaria’s education and health ministries have been at odds because of shortfalls in supplies of tests, with the Education Ministry publicly querying the promises made by the Health Ministry about forthcoming supplies of tests.

On December 2, caretaker Education Minister Nikolai Denkov said that it was obvious that pupils in all grades could not return to class on the basis of being tested twice a week.

Denkov said that the quantities currently arriving were only enough for children to the first to fourth grades. He said that to get all pupils back to class, the rate of testing should be reduced, or testing done only in dark red zones, meaning those places where the Covid-19 morbidity rate is 500 or more out of 100 000 population on a 14-day basis.

For the rest of The Sofia Globe’s continuing coverage of the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria, please click here.

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