*Measures put in place to protect children from Covid infection
*Absence of students will not be marked during the first 2 weeks
*340,000 students ready to attend schools this academic year

Hundreds of thousands of students are set to resume studies as the new academic year begins in Qatar from Tuesday.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education will implement a blended learning system during the first term of the 2020/2021 school year across all educational stages and including government and private schools, higher education institutes and kindergartens.

More than 340,000 students are expected to attend public and private schools in this academic year.

Addressing a press conference on Monday, Dr Abdullatif al-Khal, chair of the National Strategic Group on Covid-19 and head of the Infectious Diseases Division at Hamad Medical Corporation, said 98.5% of the school teachers and staff tested for Covid-19 were found negative.

Describing it as a promising result, he said it is important for children to go to school while abiding by the preventive and precautionary measures put in place.

The blended learning approach enabling children to return to school has been carefully planned with all the relevant authorities and all measures are being put in place by schools to ensure the safety of children and reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection, he said.

"As we know, while children are not immune from catching Covid-19, they are extremely unlikely to experience severe symptoms of the virus and their safety is always our first priority," Dr al-Khal continued. "With a maximum of 30% of children in school each day, in addition to supporting preventive measures, we are confident that everything is in place to enable children to safely return to schools."

The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has taken all necessary measures and conducted training workshops in co-operation with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE) for the safe return of students to schools.

The MoPH will conduct more Covid-19 tests to ensure the health and safety of students. "The ministry is fully prepared to conduct random checks, and appropriate decisions will be taken based on the results of the examination," he noted.

The administrative authorities at schools must ensure that everyone present on the premises adheres to the preventive measures, he said. Also, parents should not send their children to school if the latter are suspected of being infected, as well as ensure the compliance of children with the preventive measures.

Addressing the same press conference, MoEHE undersecretary Dr Ibrahim bin Saleh al-Nuaimi said any absence of students from school will not be counted in the first two weeks after the reopening.

The decision was taken after taking into consideration the concerns of some parents and their circumstances.

The MoEHE is co-operating closely with the MoPH to avoid any potential spread of Covid-19, he noted, stressing that they are keen to start the new school year from Tuesday with reduced number of students.

"Student attendance at 30% during the opening of the school year on Tuesday is appropriate," he said. "We did not discover any case of infection among students in the second-round exams that ended on Monday, and there is a great readiness among public and private schools to receive students and take all necessary precautions."

The blended learning will be of high quality, but at the same time the attendance of students in school classrooms is necessary.

"We hope that parents drop their children to school in their own vehicles and raise their awareness of the issue. However, we have also taken all the precautionary measures to ensure the safety of school buses," he continued.

"We will continue to review, assess and update our education plans, and will continue with the blended education process for the best of our students," he added.

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