Approach to Covid-19 cases in schools is to ring-fence on small scale, not close schools: Education Minister Ong Ye Kung

Mr Ong said the plan in the case of student-to-student transmission is "actually quite established". ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The Education Ministry's (MOE) approach to Covid-19 cases in schools will be to ring-fence and quarantine students or staff on as small a scale as possible, as opposed to reacting with a full closure of schools.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said this on Thursday (July 16), in the wake of a false positive case in Jurong West Secondary School due to a mislabelled sample.

The case was brought up and addressed by the MOE and the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday.

Mr Ong spoke to the media on Thursday after a visit to Tampines Secondary School to commemorate Racial Harmony Day.

Responding to a question on how the ministry would react in the case of student-to-student transmission, Mr Ong said the plan is "actually quite established".

"If you notice how we have reacted whenever there was a transmission, including that false transmission, essentially we put the entire affected level on home-based learning."

The false positive case was a 13-year-old girl who was swabbed because she had been in contact with a schoolmate, a 13-year-old boy who was previously confirmed to be infected.

In a statement on Tuesday, the MOH said the female student was reported to be infected based on erroneous test results submitted by the laboratory, which had mislabelled a swab sample from a Covid-19-positive individual.

Said Mr Ong: "You need to ring-fence and quarantine and put students and teachers on leave of absence, but do it on as small a scale as possible - if we can do that for a class to keep the school safe, or if not, a level, or maybe a school - as opposed to always reacting with a full closure or opening. I don't think that is appropriate."

He noted that parents and teachers seem to understand this approach, which he said was comforting.

When the Secondary 1 level in Jurong West Secondary was closed, more than 90 per cent of students from the other levels continued to go to school, said Mr Ong.

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"That means they understood that by ring-fencing that level, the rest of the school is actually safe - because of our measures, they don't intermingle.

"So I think so long as we can keep those procedures in place, parents and teachers understand, students understand, and I think we can make life as normal as we can."

Measures that schools have implemented to reduce mingling include staggering recess timings and holding assemblies in classrooms.

Schools have even come up with designated routes for students to get to their classrooms, so they do not meet in the hallways or stairwells.

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