Tehran, Iran – Schools and universities across Iran have fully reopened for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than two years ago.
From Sunday, which coincided with the beginning of the holy Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Iran, students and teachers were obliged to attend classes in person across the country.
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Some schools and universities had seen partial reopenings before as COVID-19 peaks subsided, but none had fully and consistently reconvened classes physically since the start of the pandemic in Iran in February 2020.
State television showed footage of packed classrooms from several provinces across the country on Sunday, with masked students sitting in rooms with open windows.
Metros and buses were made free of charge until 9am to encourage students and teaching staff to use public transport.
Being fully vaccinated is a prerequisite for attending classes for students and teachers.
Health protocols call for mandatory masks, disinfected spaces and teams to monitor developments at schools, but not for increased physical distancing in classes.
Three groups of students are now allowed to be absent from physical classrooms: those suffering from underlying conditions, those infected with coronavirus and those showing symptoms.
Since the start of the pandemic, state television has aired a variety of classes to continue education.
The Ministry of Education also launched an application to host online classes. However, thousands of students – especially those in less privileged areas – were unable to continue their education due to a lack of access to computers and stable internet connections.
From effects on social skills to limited learning, authorities at the ministry have repeatedly warned of the dangers of remote education for students, but six waves of the coronavirus and more than 140,000 deaths – the highest toll in the Middle East – had prevented a full reopening of schools even as most other public activities have long been normalised.
Health officials have warned that a seventh wave of the pandemic might grip the country in the weeks following the Nowruz holidays that ended on Saturday.
During the extended holidays that span two weeks to celebrate the Iranian new year, tens of millions of people travel across the country, and many gather in closed spaces to see family and friends.
The sixth wave of the pandemic – defined by the Omicron variant – has been contained in recent weeks amid a widespread national vaccination campaign. But the country is still seeing about 50 deaths and 3,000 new cases per day.
The Iran, the official newspaper of the government, reported on Sunday that parents have a right to say the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi should have waited to see whether infections again rise significantly following the Nowruz holiday.
“If children return to schools and have to fall back on online education again due to the coronavirus, their worlds will be met with even more instability,” it wrote, warning that if cases rise again, schools should not be blamed.