Keep Calm and Carry On (For Now)

November 6, 2020

At the moment, we have a bit of a pandemic in our hands. COVID-19 has forced the Swiss government to lock down vast swathes of the economy. This very school, in fact, was forced by the Canton de Vaud, to shut down for several months. The more perceptive of you may have even noticed the new regulations concerning mask-wearing and social distancing.


All this highlights the fact that the school’s response to COVID-19 is entirely outside of our control: whether the school will shut down again depends entirely on the whims of the cantonal administration. It might therefore be worth asking: what have those whims been in the past and how might we predict these whims in the future?


To answer this question, we must start with a general analysis of the coronavirus situation in the Canton de Vaud. The imposition of the first lockdown back in March was a direct consequence of cases beginning to rise in the canton for the first time. It was also pretty effective at stopping the propagation of the virus: after about two weeks, cases dropped substantially.


After another rise of daily new cases more recently, a new set of coronavirus restrictions were introduced on the 17th of September, and again on the 28th of October, which primarily concern public places (libraries, restaurants, night clubs, religious institutions, universities, e.t.c) and are generally looser than the first ones. The implementation of these more recent lockdown measures, and specifically how much longer the cantonal administration waited to implement them, tells us something else about the government’s reaction to the virus: it is becoming less willing to impose harsh measures, most likely due to economic concerns.


The coronavirus has cost the entire Swiss government nearly 18 billion Francs up until this point, which isn’t even to mention the thousands of jobs in the service industry that the coronavirus has completely decimated. Overall, Vaud alone has expected to see a 5% decrease in GDP this quarter (which doesn’t sound like a lot but it very much is).


Consequently, in my opinion, the pandemic would have to get a lot worse before the canton goes into complete lockdown again. So far, there is no indication that this will happen any time soon, so, for now, we can breathe a sigh of relief.


The situation specific to schools, however, may be a little different. As it stands, I’m sure we’re all intimately familiar with the current coronavirus restrictions for schools: teachers and students are required to wear masks where a distance of 1.5 meters cannot be kept, disinfectant must be readily available, students may not share food, and students must remain seated if they want to remove their masks while eating (to name the important ones).


Considering the extent to which new cases primarily come from younger people, these relatively harsh measures are justifiable. They are also ineffective. Young people still constitute a disproportionate amount of new cases, and there has been no sign that restriction measures in schools are working. Hasher measures may be seen as warranted by the Swiss authorities.


A factor to consider in this is the aforementioned economic effect. Locking down schools wouldn’t have the same disastrous effect as a general lockdown of the economy. They don’t constitute an immediate essential service (in the same way that supermarkets do), and teachers are, by and large, employees of the state, which makes them easier to protect in the event of a lockdown.


The economic effect is not limited to within schools, however. Younger children, in particular, are difficult to take care of, especially if both parents continue to work during a school shutdown, and so schools may stay open for them by virtue of sheer necessity. After all, requiring large swathes of the population to stay home to take care of their children is both economically and politically expensive. The older students, however, and those in post-compulsory education especially (those of us in year 11 and above), have a reason to be worried, since there is less of a concern about the immediate safety of the child when home alone.


Our one potential saving grace is that students in public schools (which, we must remind ourselves, are the people who lawmakers primarily have in mind when creating these policies) were not able to learn any new material during the first lockdown (between March and August). A second lockdown would put Swiss children even further behind. Once again, however, we must remember that most of high school at ISL is in post-compulsory education. There is less pressure for the relatively small number of students who are still in school at this point to keep up with school curricula, so we will likely be the first on the chopping block if schools do close.


The most recent set of coronavirus restrictions imposed has so far avoided shutting down schools, but it remains to be seen whether they are effective. If not, there is a high chance that all non-compulsory education, if not all education, will be moved online.


Overall, the probability of the school being shut down depends almost entirely on new daily cases among young people, and ultimately, therefore, our compliance with the lockdown measures that the government has imposed.

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