Concern, relief as Spanish children return to school

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MADRID (Reuters) - Wearing colourful masks, the pupils of the Mariano Jose de Larra primary school in Madrid laughed and played on Tuesday morning before their teachers made them form two lines at the gates to measure their temperature.

It was the first day back at school for millions of Spanish children after a six-month break, bringing parents feelings of both relief and worry about a possible rise in coronavirus infections.

“I’m a teacher and I still haven’t brought my children back to school because it’s not safe yet,” said Maria Varas, who teaches music. “For many days we’ve been working long hours, but it doesn’t just depend on us. Families, society, they’ve got to join us in this.”

On Monday Spain became the first western European country to pass 500,000 cumulative cases of coronavirus after detecting almost 50,000 in the past week. Eight new deaths were reported on Monday, bringing the total to 29,516.

With younger people now accounting for more infections than any other group, officials have sought to calm fears that the return to school will trigger a surge in contagion and imposed mandatory masks, smaller classes and regular hand washing.

They say a repeat of the epidemic’s late-March peak, which pushed hospitals to breaking point and killed close to a thousand a day, is unlikely.

Father of two Richard Moreno was confident in the government’s handling and was happy to see the gates reopen.

“It gives us hope because after being locked up so long, look how happy they are to see each other again. It’s marvellous,” he told Reuters.

Writing by Nathan Allen; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Raissa Kasolowsky