Coronavirus: Hong Kong international schools say they may not survive health crisis

Children wearing face masks crossing a road in Hong Kong on Jan 27, 2020. Hong Kong students have not gone to school since the scheduled Chinese New Year break began in late January. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong's international schools are bracing for an exodus of families from the city, with some warning they may have to shut for good after the government suspended classes to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The schools' concerns were relayed to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in a Feb 12 letter from the French and British chambers of commerce.

"If the specific needs of international schools cannot be rapidly addressed, this will very likely trigger decisions of families (not just expatriates) to leave Hong Kong in the coming weeks," wrote Ms Rebecca Silli and Mr Peter Burnett, chairs of the French and British chambers. "This would also have dramatic consequences on the international schools' financial position, even to the point of putting at risk the continued operation of some."

The letter, which didn't name any at-risk schools, was dated a day before Mrs Lam's administration announced the extension of class suspensions until at least March 16.

Hong Kong students haven't gone to school since the scheduled Chinese New Year break began in late January. The city has 56 confirmed coronavirus cases and is on the front lines of the global battle to contain the illness, which has claimed more than 1,300 lives in mainland China since emerging in December.

The outbreak comes on the heels of anti-government protests in Hong Kong that roiled the city in the second half of 2019 and spurred some expats to consider leaving.

The former British colony's international schools are filled with the children of bankers, lawyers and other professionals who've moved to the financial hub from mainland China and other countries like the UK, France and the US.

The chambers called on Mrs Lam's government to improve communication with international schools during the crisis.

They warned that if schools can't get clarity soon on whether they'll be able to reopen in March, or host exams scheduled for April-June, the entire school year may be jeopardised and prompt a "significant number" of families to leave.

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