SINGAPORE - Schools and kindergartens will reopen next Monday (March 23) as planned, but with stricter measures to prevent the coronavirus being spread by those who had returned from trips abroad during the holidays.
Students and staff members of schools, pre-schools and student care centres will be given 14-day leave of absence if they returned from overseas on or after March 14.
The date of their return to Singapore will be taken as Day Zero of the 14 days.
The moves comes amid a recent spike in the number of imported cases. Eight out of 10 of Singapore's imported cases of Covid-19 have come in the last nine days.
The decision to reopen schools and pre-schools came amid speculation that the one-week school holidays which began on March 14 might be extended, especially after the number of new infections reached a new high of 47 on Wednesday.
Instead, additional precautionary measures will be put in place.
Students who will have to miss classes will be supported through home-based learning.
Parents will have to take their own leave should they need to care for their children on leave of absence but the ministries encouraged employers to provide flexible work arrangements.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post on Thursday that "thousands of our students and their families have travelled overseas and have returned, or are now making their way back".
"Our priority must be to protect the education system and keeping students safe. By protecting the system robustly, it can remain open, and lives need not be disrupted. Otherwise, many parents, including those working in hospitals and providing essential services, will not be able to go to work."
He acknowledged that students, parents and coaches may be inconvenienced by the decision.
He added: "I hate to have to do this, but it is critical that we protect the system, and keep everyone who has overseas exposure to the virus away from the school population. Then we can possibly return to the calm we enjoyed before the March school holidays. We need to do our best to maintain that."
All co-curricular activities (CCAs) along with the National School Games will be suspended and the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) Arts Presentation deferred, for two weeks.
Also for two weeks starting from Monday, pupils in Primary 3 and above will have "fixed exam-style seating" where they will sit further apart and in assigned seats and not move around, while Primary 1 and 2 pupils, as well as kindergarten children will have fixed group cluster seating.
Seating will also be assigned in canteens.
Classrooms and canteens will be routinely wiped down. During the March holidays, schools have been cleaned thoroughly.
Before these new steps were announced, recess times had been staggered and large group activities suspended.
Other precautions are also in place. Pre-schools continue with health checks and temperature screenings. Visitors are restricted from pre-schools, and parents are to drop off and pick up their children outside the school.
The stay-at-home order put in place by the ministry caught some parents like Madam L. Rosie, 43, by surprise. She had taken her two primary school going children to visit relatives in Malaysia.
"My husband and I were careful to drive straight to my parents' home in Johor . So we thought it will be okay and so far, all of us are fine.
"I will have to take leave to supervise them at home. I am worried that if I don't, they won't get their homework done and fall behind in their studies."