Coronavirus: Hong Kong schools extend closures to at least March 16

Students wear face masks in the arrival hall at Hong Kong's international airport on Jan 22, 2020.
Students wear face masks in the arrival hall at Hong Kong's international airport on Jan 22, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Hong Kong will extend school closures to at least March 16 amid ongoing concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said in a briefing on Thursday (Feb 13).

"We are continuing to listen to medical professionals," Mr Yeung said. "We will announce the date to resume school when all conditions are satisfied."

Students in the financial hub have not gone to school since the scheduled Chinese New Year break began in late January.

Before they returned, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that schools would stay closed through at least March 2 in response to the viral outbreak that began in central China.

Parents have been anticipating - and dreading - extended closures. The University of Hong Kong said earlier this week that it would not resume on-campus instruction until the end of March at the earliest.

Mr Yeung said the city might consider delaying summer vacation to make up for the lost class time, and encouraged students to continue online and virtual learning while schools are closed.

"Social distancing and avoiding mass movement of people are the strategies for preventing and controlling the epidemic," Mr Yeung said. "There is no urgency for students now staying in the mainland and other countries to return to Hong Kong."

Hong Kong has 50 confirmed coronavirus cases and is on the front lines of the now-global battle to contain the illness, which has claimed more than 1,300 lives in mainland China since emerging in December.

Nearly 60,000 people in China have been diagnosed with the virus, mostly in Hubei province, where the outbreak began.

Many schools in Hong Kong have already switched to online learning and lessons by conference call, with assignments given out on a daily or weekly basis. 

The outbreak has triggered fresh tensions between the government and residents, many of who have called for full closure of the border with mainland China. 

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has closed some cross-border links but has said completely sealing it would be inappropriate, impractical and discriminatory.