Wed, 23 Sep 2020

ANKARA, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- As schools are officially planned to reopen nationwide in Turkey on Aug. 31, teachers and parents are concerned about uncertainties looming about the process and the rise in COVID-19 cases in the country.

The Turkish government has announced that schools will reopen to get students back in the classrooms again after schools were shut down in March when Turkey introduced coronavirus restrictions.

Turkey lifted most of these restrictions on June 1 to kickstart the economy. Since then daily confirmed cases decreased to around 900.

But recent daily cases, according to the Health Ministry, have gone back to over 1000. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that the rise in new cases was "considerable" and urged citizens to be vigilant.

Big cities such as Ankara, Istanbul and Diyarbakir, have become hotspots despite authorities repeated warnings to abide by safety measures.

In a private high school in Ankara, teachers have expressed concerns on the latest coronavirus data, noting that it could prompt education authorities to change their minds.

"No one still knows how and if schools are going to reopen. There are uncertainties. But it is not the Education Ministry's fault because they also expected COVID-19 cases to drop. However, this is not happening," Zeynep Akinci, academic coordinator of the school told Xinhua.

Her school is set to reopen on Aug. 24 for optional remedial classes for children who had difficulties to adapt to on-line lessons during the nearly 4 month-long lockdown.

"Some parents have informed us that they will wait until the last week of August to make a decision whether or not to send their children to school, depending on the number of coronavirus cases then. This makes our organizational task very difficult because we can't predict how many students will attend classes," Akinci stressed.

One of those parents is Gulseren Demir, a bank employee, who said she was "puzzled" over the rise in coronavirus cases.

"There are reports of a nationwide rise in numbers which could be higher than the official data, so I am concerned for my children" who are due to attend primary and middle school, she pointed out.

She indicated that if cases don't drop below the 500 daily cases level, she is not keen to send her children to school.

Tevfik Ozlu, a professor of medicine and a member of Turkey's COVID-19 Science Advisory Board, said that if parents voluntarily delay their kids' attendance in school, it could help curb the spread of the virus.

"A voluntary choice by parents could be a solution," he said.

In capital Ankara, in light of new data, all non-essential hospitalizations and surgeries have been temporarily suspended to leave rooms and beds for increasing COVID-19 patients, the governor's office said.

All the empty intensive care unit beds are also allocated to COVID-19 patients.

"Unfortunately, the number of cases has reached the peak levels of the outbreak," Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas tweeted amid news reports saying that safety measures were generally not respected by the public during the holiday season.

Education Minister Ziya Selcuk said last week that his ministry is assessing different scenarios depending on the course of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"As the Education Ministry, our duty is to open and keep schools open. We continue our preparations for the opening of schools to the smallest details. Here, our first scenario is that schools will fully open and all students will go to school," Selcuk told Demiroren News Agency.

The preparations are made in cooperation with other ministries and other models around the world are also examined, he said.

In another scenario, face-to-face education and distance education are planned to be carried out together, Selcuk remarked.

A third scenario is to open schools on a city basis, depending on the number of cases, the minister said. And the fourth scenario, the worst, is a return to a full distance education.

Akinci argued that the best possible scenario would be to introduce a hybrid curriculum of in-person and distance learning for students to help deal with the risks of COVID-19.

For students, that could mean spending only three or four days at school a week, and they can take on-line classes for the rest of the days.

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