Most children in Romania will return to classrooms next week for the first time in almost six months, one of the longest shutdowns in Europe, President Klaus Iohannis said on Tuesday.
"Prepare the children for school," he said after a meeting with several members of the government, adding that the majority of children will be allowed to return to class on Monday.
One of the poorest members of the European Union, hundreds of thousands of Romanian students lack computers or internet access necessary to participate in online classes, effectively making it impossible for them to learn outside physical classrooms.
Almost 40 percent of Romania's 2.9 million school children were already at risk of social exclusion and poverty before schools were first shut in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, according to Eurostat.
Since then, schools briefly opened in autumn, before a second wave of Covid-19 infections swept over the southeastern European country of 19 million, forcing them to shut down again.
The daily number of coronavirus cases spiked around 10,000 in November, but has since dropped to an average of around 2,500.
"We looked around a bit to see what others are doing and we saw that most EU countries reopened schools already or are planning on doing so", Iohannis said Tuesday.
Several NGOs, including "Save the Children", have been calling for the reopening of schools for months, a plea supported by parents and teachers.
To limit the risk of infection in classrooms, Romania has bought 37 million masks for its school children, Minister of Education Sorin Campeanu said Tuesday.
The government also presented a range of scenarios under which schools will reopen depending on infection rates in specific areas, and said that the ministry of education is yet to decide exactly which schools will reopen Monday.
Romania has reported over 732,000 infections and 18,513 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and has vaccinated more than 472,000 residents.