Principals, teachers and other staff in Sri Lanka returned to schools on Monday after three months of lockdown imposed in the country to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Education Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said the students will return to schools next week under four phases.

“The principals, teachers and the non-academic staff should return to work today (Monday) to set plans for the students” return next month,” Alahapperuma said.

“Our sons and daughters walking back to study would be the ultimate signal of the country returning to normalcy after the pandemic”, Alahapperuma said.

The government claims that the spread of the pandemic has been successfully tackled with no community spread cases since April 30. Sri Lanka has reported only 11 deaths from a little over 2,000 positive cases of the coronavirus. No deaths have been reported since June 1.

However, the teacher trade unions said more planning needs to be done before reopening as some of the grades are to be subject to extended school sessions. The students will return on July 6, 20 and 27 based on their grades.

Alahapperuma said at the first stage, circulars would be sent to schools requesting all teachers, principals, non-academic staff and School Management Boards to report to schools from June 29 to July 3.

The minister said there was no need for schoolchildren to attend schools for another week because the classrooms would have to be cleaned and disinfected.

“The students in Grades 5, 11 and 13 will have to attend schools from July 6 at the second stage, which will continue for two weeks until July 17,” he said.

The third stage will begin on July 20 for students in Grade 10 and 12. It will continue until July 24. The fourth stage will begin on July 27 for Grade 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9.”

However, the Minister said no decision has been taken as yet to reopen schools for Grade 1 and 2.

The Ministry has decided to postpone the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level, which was earlier scheduled to begin on August 5, to be held from September 7-October 2.

With the outbreak of the pandemic since mid March schools were given early vacation until late April.

However the health authorities decided it was not safe to reopen schools in late April.

Today”s first stage of schools reopening came as the government formally announced the end to lockdown curfews with effect from last night.

The Sri Lankan government on Sunday completely lifted a curfew imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus after no new case of community infection was recorded for nearly two months in the country.

Sri Lanka has been under a continuous lockdown since March 20, a week after the first local victim of the pandemic was reported. Initially, a nationwide blanket curfew was imposed but it was later eased for about two-thirds of the country and was mostly confined to nighttime.