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Government: ‘Universities will stay open as long as possible if new coronavirus wave hits’

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In the event of another coronavirus spike, the Dutch government intends to keep educational institutions open for as long as possible. Only when school pupils and university students and staff are in immediate danger will schools and universities be shut down again.

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Schools and universities will be “at the bottom of the list” if the government is to take measures against the coronavirus once more, the ministers of Health, Economic Affairs and Social Affairs announced in a letter to the Dutch Parliament. The same goes for kindergardens.

The government says that “a (partial) closure” of educational institutions could happen if there is no other option, but the ministers would rather avoid shutting them down “at all times”.

Mental health
The Dutch government states that its Covid policy will be based on a desire to keep society open. However, this would require various sectors to cooperate. For example, one would need to ensure rooms are well ventilated and enforce the use of walking routes and splash screens.

The government also underlines the interests of young people. “Young people's mental health was under pressure during the pandemic due to the loss of social activities related to education, sports and the cultural sector.”

Free self-tests will remain available for university students and staff until the Christmas holidays, “unless it is decided earlier that they are no longer necessary”. In that case, the distribution of free tests will be interrupted after the autumn holidays.

Education
To ensure enough capacity to handle a new wave, higher education and healthcare institutions must work together to train more healthcare workers. The Dutch government wants special dual tracks that combine on-the-job training with education to be developed for third and fourth-year nursing students in secondary vocational and higher professional education.

In addition, 800 students could enrol in a short Basic Acute Care (BAC) programme as early as this year. The healthcare institutions are to receive a 25,000 euro subsidy per student who completes their BAC training.

Some fear that healthcare institutions would have their capacity to offer care reduced by providing supervision to trainees. The government is considering this possibility, which is why it would like the institutions to come up with “innovative ways to supervise trainees”. That way, they would be able to supervise more students without putting extra pressure on care provision.

There will also be special tracks to allow surgical assistants and anaesthesia assistants to obtain a nursing diploma. The government believes this will offer them more career prospects.

Waitlisted students
Finally, the government is looking to deploy "waitlisted medical students" if another coronavirus wave hits. These are medical students who are on the waiting list to do their internships. However, this would have to be beneficial for the students as well, giving them a sense of autonomy and freedom to decide what kind of work they would like to do.

“We are likely to see a resurgence of the coronavirus in the near future, even though that might be hard to imagine now, with summer approaching and no restrictive measures in force”, the letter concludes. “It is vital that we use this relatively calm phase that the pandemic is giving us to maximise our prevention efforts and prepare for more serious scenarios.”

Meanwhile, virologists are still under threat. Marion Koopmans announced this week that she will no longer be attending Oerol festival after consulting with the police.

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