MADRID (Reuters) -Students at Spanish schools and universities will return to class in-person when the new term begins on Jan. 10, the Health Minister said on Tuesday, ending speculation that record COVID-19 infections might trigger a return to distance learning.
Cases have hit new highs since the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected. Omicron accounted for around 43% of cases in the week before Christmas, Spanish health authorities said on Monday.
The nationwide infection rate as measured over the past 14 days rose to a new record of 2,433 cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, a more than 10-fold increase since the beginning of December.
Pressure on hospitals is on the rise but remains well off highs seen a year ago. Intensive care occupancy reached 21.3% on Tuesday, up from 8% a month ago but less than half the peak of 43% recorded last January.
Officials from the 17 Spanish regions, which set their own health policy, all voted in favour of a return to the classroom on Tuesday in a rare display of unanimity in a country riven by stark political differences.
Masks will be mandatory and schools must guarantee adequate ventilation, while regional administrations will work to cover any teacher absences due to infection, Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters after the regional meeting.
More than 90% of Spaniards over 12 have received a full vaccine course, according to ministry data, while just under a third of children aged 5-11 have received their first dose since Spain began vaccinating that age group in mid-December.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo and Inti Landauro; Additional reporting by Catarina Demony; Writing by Nathan Allen; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alison Williams)