Malaysian parents anxious over Covid-19 cases in newly reopened schools

Some parents have voiced concerns over whether they should continue to send their children to school amid a lack of clarity over safety measures. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Less than a month after schools in Malaysia were allowed to reopen, a spate of Covid-19 cases among students and teachers have sparked fears and concerns among parents, while the opposition has raised questions on the government's handling of the outbreak.

Some parents have voiced concerns online over whether they should continue to send their children to school amid a lack of clarity over safety measures if cases occur.

A parent who declined to be named told The Straits Times she has been compiling a list of affected schools nationwide, based on news reports and school memos sent to parents, and had recorded a total of 44 as at Monday (March 22).

Opposition MP Kasthuri Patto from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) said that while schools were ordered to close when cases were detected previously, a school in her constituency in Penang now remained open despite 16 reported cases of Covid-19.

"A check with the school authorities and the district education office stated that there was no necessity to close the school even though there have been 15 students and one teacher who have been diagnosed with Covid-19," she in a statement on Sunday, describing it as "alarming".

The opposition bloc's Education Committee on Monday urged the Education Ministry to be transparent over the number of schools hit by infections.

It said that while parents were relieved that schools had reopened, they were "anxious" that schools could become possible sources of clusters.

"This anxiety arises when there is no sharing of data by the Education Ministry over schools affected by Covid-19 infections," it said in a statement.

Schools across Malaysia were reopened from March 1 after being mostly shut since March 2020 amid fears of a "lost generation" of students locked up at home. Schools resumed in June last year but were ordered to close again from October amid a resurgence of cases.

There was also pressure to reopen this year, as most parents from low-income families have started working again with the reopening of most sectors of the economy.

The government had introduced online learning and educational television during the school shutdown. But poor families complained about their inability to buy tablets and laptops for their children, while those in rural areas struggled with slow to non-existent Internet.

While the number of daily Covid-19 infections have declined from the record 5,728 on Jan 30, these have been hovering between 1,000 and 2,000 since March 6.

On Monday, the cases stood at 1,116, the 17th consecutive day of above-1,000 cases in one day.

Education Minister Radzi Jidin said on Sunday that any closure of schools due to the emergence of Covid-19 cases would depend on the district health office.

"We can only make a decision based on advice given by the district health office, which will conduct a risk analysis and assessment," he said.

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said closing schools was not the best solution.

"Online learning is still not ideal, while (educational TV) cannot replace formal learning. There are also mental health issues of students that cannot be underestimated," she was quoted as saying by The Star daily.

DAP MP and former deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching told ST: "The biggest problem is that the Education Ministry is not sharing any data.

"Parents are kept in the dark, and confused why certain schools are ordered to close while some are not."

At least 24 schools have been affected by Covid-19, she said, but added that she believed there could be more.

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