Italian schools reopen amid fears, controversy

Most Italian schools reopened their doors on Monday after six months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in a big test for the government headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Only about 5.6 million students over a total of more than 8 million went back to their desks, as seven out 20 Italian regions decided to postpone the reopening due to the lack of adequate structures and ongoing controversy over the complex safety rules introduced by the government.

In the past few weeks, regional governors and school managers across have loudly complained about the delayed distribution of millions of protective masks and new single-seat desks, needed to ensure safety distances.

Many schools are still struggling to find enough personnel and classrooms to avoid the risks of a new virus outbreak. Some school managers adopted creative solutions to find new and larger spaces such as using nearby churches or theatres to host their students.

Far-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who has constantly attacked the government for its handling of the school emergency, announced that later this week his party will present a no-confidence motion in the Senate against Education Minister Lucia Azzolina.

Celebrating the start of the new academic year, Azzolina rebuffed any criticism, saying that the government has never left the schools alone to face an unprecedented emergency.

"This year will be complex and we know that," she said. "But we have worked hard and built a prevention strategy that will work if everybody does their part."

The government decided to close all Italian schools in early March, at the first stages of the virus outbreak which hit the country hard, claiming more than 35,600 lives to date.

On Monday, Health Ministry data registered 1,008 new infections in the past 24 hours and 14 new deaths.

New COVID-19 infections have been steadily growing over the past six weeks, fuelling worries that schools could become a hotbed for new outbreaks.



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