Madrid and Andalucía decided not to wait for the results of discussions with the responsible committees – which include representatives of all autonomous governments – and to end this mass school quarantine as of Monday.
The Spanish Ministry of Health is currently examining the lifting of the quarantine for entire primary school classes and children (from six to eleven-year-olds) when the first dose has been administered.
The Ministries of Health and Education have steered clear of the controversy. However, Isabel Rodríguez, the Minister of Territorial Policy, has intervened in the debate. In an interview on TV channel La Sexta, she stated: ‘The Madrid region chooses to side-track and does not adhere to institutional loyalties, while there is a multilateral forum in which joint decisions are taken to provide a national response to circumstances such as these’.
Madrid announced the end of quarantines last Friday and Andalucia did the same on Monday. However, because the decision violates the most recent protocol on quarantines in educational centres, there has been a delay.
Before the holidays, unvaccinated pupils who were in close contact with an infected person had to quarantine for ten days. Currently, the vaccination campaign for primary schools is still ongoing. Therefore, not all pupils have been fully vaccinated. Hence a quarantine measure for the whole class, as all classmates are considered close contacts.
Low vaccination rate in Madrid
Students under 12 in Madrid who have had close contact with a person testing positive do not need to quarantine. This is according to the protocol for returning to school after the Christmas holidays, which was announced on Wednesday. Furthermore, this measure is more lax than the one currently in force. This stipulates that the pupil was only exempt from quarantine if he or she had been vaccinated. Vaccination rates of children aged between 6 and 11 in Madrid are still low. Furthermore, only 28% of children in this age group have received their first dose.
Madrid issued a press release on Friday announcing ‘a new outbreak strategy’, referring to these new developments. The change in strategy concerns children under 12, the population group that is furthest behind in vaccination. Unvaccinated pupils over 12, teachers and other staff, and those with only one dose, will be quarantined for seven days. Madrid’s Minister of Education, Enrique Ossorio, explained the strategy and confirmed no decision has yet been taken on the quarantine. Nor has any document been approved or changed. ‘To date, at the national level, we do not know what the current arrangement is.’
A spokesperson for Andalucía’s regional government, Javier Martín Arroyo, says the state government is pushing ahead with the measure because it was approved by its committee of experts on Monday. It, therefore, considers this to be a satisfactory endorsement. In the case of Andalucía, the final decision on whether or not to apply quarantines is left to health professionals: ‘In the event of an outbreak, primary health care professionals will determine the measures, in consultation with the school nurse or university referral’.
Which ministry is responsible?
A Ministry of Education spokesperson said that changes in health criteria are not the responsibility of this department, but of the health service.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health refers to the words of its minister, Carolina Darias. She reported on Tuesday: ‘Some councillors have suggested the abolition of the quarantine. And what we replied is that we always adapt the protocols agreed during the pandemic with the help of experts. This measure is currently being studied and when we have the proposal of the consultants, in this case, it will be analysed and, if necessary, approved by the Public Health Committee’. She added: ‘We have applicable guidelines and protocols’. The spokesperson did not want to stir up controversy with the two communities governed by the conservative Partido Popular: ‘We are appealing to the coordination team and the board which has functioned very well so far’.
The Ministers for Education and Vocational Training, Pilar Alegría, and Universities, Joan Subirats, regretted on Tuesday at the press conference after the meeting with the Health and Regional Ministers that there had been talk of returning ‘remotely’ to the classroom. This while, with the exception of Madrid and Murcia, a consensus had been reached in the interests of fairness. Irritated, Alegría said: ‘There has been a debate about returning to the classroom that has created the image that schools are not safe spaces’.
Madrid ‘against the grain’
This is not the only time Madrid has gone against the grain. Madrid previously announced it would remove the facemask obligation on the playground because it was in violation of the law. In the end, it didn’t happen, as on Tuesday Madrid declared they would have to be worn again to comply with the new rule that requires facemasks to be worn outdoors.
Read more about the return to schools and universities after the Christmas holidays.