The COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Omicron variant wave have dramatically impacted societies in all sectors and at all levels. After near universal school closures in March 2020 that affected 1.6 billion learners and more than 100 million teachers and educators worldwide, countries around the world have developed health and safety protocols in an effort to safely keep schools open and protect students, teachers and other educational staff from the transmission of COVID-19. However, since the emergence of the Omicron variant in December 2021, these protocols have been disrupted and are being reevaluated as schools struggle to address a new set of challenges marked by staff shortages, threats to school safety and political battles over health measures. Based on an analysis of 35 countries, this brief report aims to provide a current overview of national health and safety protocols to keep schools open, their dimensions and how they are designed, implemented and regulated to ensure the continuation of education. It also aims to guide education systems by outlining some lessons learnt and effective practices on how the reopening of schools might be achieved safely and successfully. Finally, the report seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the impacts of the protocols on learning as well as the social and emotional wellbeing, health and development of learners and teachers. In a changing environment where infection rates are increasing at an exponential rate, it also explores how the Omicron variant is affecting current operations and what education systems should do to keep schools open while ensuring that all students are safe and learning.
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