Reconstruction: ‘Distance students are important, ‘OMT members now say

The idea that high school students play a limited role in the transfer of corona was โ€œa mistakeโ€. That says OMT member and pediatrician Karรณly Illy. The one-and-a-half meter measure in secondary schools was released in the summer on the advice of the Outbreak Management Team (OMT). Research by Nieuwsuur shows that there are still many questions about the scientific basis of that opinion.


Andreas Voss, Professor of Infection Prevention and OMT member, says: โ€œPersonally, I think that earlier, and especially in the older group of high school students, we should have thought about how they could have kept their distance. For example, with hybrid education, or education in small groups.โ€ Both OMT members believe that keeping distance in secondary schools in the future is important for education to continue.

Illy: โ€œIn June last year, we were under the impression that teenagers, perhaps even negligible, played a rather small role. Gradually in August, September it became increasingly clear that this was a mistake. Teenagers also play an important role in the spread of the virus.โ€

In countries such as Belgium, Germany and France, high school students had to keep their distance. But the OMT didn‘t think that was necessary. Not even when infections among young people aged 12 to 17 increased and the World Health Organization strongly advised distance.

At the

end of April, just after the first lockdown, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced for the first time easing: secondary education was allowed to open, but had to prepare for a ‘one-and-a-half meter school‘.

Two months later, this distance measure is released, for the school year after the summer: โ€œThis means that secondary schools can give lessons again and that all pupils do not have to keep one and a half meters away from each other, but to the teachers,โ€ says Rutte on 24 June.

The OMT opinion of June states that if students do not keep one and a half meters away from each other, this increases the risk of transmission of the virus. But the OMT considers this to be an ‘acceptable risk‘ when it is weighed against the ‘evident negative effects of school closure or limited opening-up of education on the well-being and health and development of children‘.

Inquiry in Germany

When the new school year has started in the Netherlands, the World Health Organization (WHO) publishes a document with advice for schools. It says that students over 12 years old, both inside and outside the classroom, should best keep one meter away from each other. Especially when the contamination rate in a country is high. Also, WHO recommends the use of mouth masks for this group.

The WHO opinion differs from the measures taken by the Netherlands. How different is that in Italy and France, pupils in secondary schools must wear a mouthcap in the classroom and keep distance from each other. The Robert Koch Institute, the German RIVM, also advises distance for high school students. If this does not work out, students are advised a mouth mask.

When Nieuwsuur makes inquiries, the German Institute states: โ€œWhat we know so far about epidemiology and contagiousness in older pupils/adolescents is that it resembles adults. Therefore, basic preventive approaches should be applied to prevent further transmission and (potentially serious) disease, both in pupils and in their households.โ€


Why does the Netherlands do it differently and the one and a half meter is released? When RIVM director Jaap van Dissel joins the House of Representatives on 25 June, he says: โ€œThis is because at the same time we see documents in the medical literature – and certainly not in the slightest magazines – about the harmful effects that the continuation of all these types of measures in this group, both in terms of education and social interaction.โ€

What Van Dissel means is unclear. If Nieuwsuur asks for substantiation, RIVM sends a study by Oxford University which was published four months after Van Dissel’s explanation. Moreover, the study is not about secondary schools, but about primary schools that were completely closed during the lockdown. The study concludes that this causes pupils to experience learning disabilities, but is not about education at one and a half meters away.

No Study

We ask the RIVM if there are studies that show that education at one and a half meters would be detrimental to students. The RIVM then says: โ€œThere is no study that shows that it would be detrimental if students had to keep one and a half meters away from each other.โ€

When we ask the RIVM again on which the opinion is based, the institute says: โ€œThe advice on releasing the one and a half meters in secondary schools is based on a lot of studies that showthat children become infected less often and less often are an index patient (the first patient, red).โ€

The OMT then notes for the first time in August that young people are โ€œregularly infectedโ€ and โ€œcould contribute to the spreadโ€. Nevertheless, the OMT refrains from taking action: โ€œGiven the great importance of education for the well-being, development and health of children and young people, the OMT believes that secondary education can remain open in the way in which it is now organised.โ€

In August, OMT member Illy proposed to introduce a distance measure for secondary education. โ€œIt was said: defensible in itself and we can think about it, but it is difficult to get support for that. Others in society, such as the hospitality industry, can then say: that is what we want. I understood that. The only thing is that we have insisted that children have not kept any distance.โ€

Concerned parents

Talks from Nieuwsuur show that practical objections have also been involved. For example, it would be difficult for schools to make the grids that take one and a half meters away and the classrooms would not be large enough.

While in neighbouring countries it is possible to teach students at one and a half meters away or with a mouthcap, the Netherlands continues on the chosen path and the OMT sees no reason to change the advice. This is while the RIVM has been writing on its website since November: โ€œWe are seeing a higher increase in incidence and transmission in children as they age, especially between the ages of 15 and 17.โ€

Parents concerned also demand a distance between pupils and a cap duty in the classroom via the court. The plaintiffs want the government to follow WHO guidelines. In the interim judgment, the judge has already indicated that the State should justify itself more effectively. The final verdict will follow next Thursday.

Both OMT members Illy and Voss hope that there will be a model where education is possible, but the transmission of the virus can be limited. โ€œSchools open, but education with one of a distance measure.โ€