Wuhan virus: Singapore schools ask parents, staff to declare weekend travel plans

Pre-school staff are advised to defer non-essential travel to Wuhan, as infants and young children are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Schools here have stepped up measures to safeguard against the mystery Wuhan virus, after Singapore confirmed its first case.

"In this phase of enhanced preparedness, our schools, including Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergartens and institutes of higher learning, will take measures to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and staff," the ministry said in a statement on Thursday night (Jan 23).

Schools have instituted travel declarations for all students and staff. Those who have travelled to China will be advised to monitor their health and take their temperatures regularly for 14 days upon their return.

MOE has also issued advisories to remind all school students and staff to monitor their health and practise good personal hygiene. "We will also take the necessary precautions for student trips," the ministry added.

There are currently no school trips planned to Hubei province, and none to China for the month of February.

MOE said it is working closely with the Ministry of Health and will monitor the situation and advise schools, the polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education to postpone trips in March and later, if necessary.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said it had issued advisories on Wednesday to pre-schools and student care centres to inform them about precautionary measures.

"As infants and young children are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, pre-school staff are advised to defer non-essential travel to Wuhan during this period," she said.

Pre-schools like PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots and EtonHouse have also sent circulars to parents and staff requiring them to declare travel plans over the Chinese New Year weekend.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said measures to ensure staff and students' safety and well-being have been in place in schools and institutes of higher learning since the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) episode in 2003. "We stand ready to activate them if the situation requires it."

The MSF spokesman said the Early Childhood Development Agency had also reminded pre-schools to be vigilant in conducting health checks and monitoring the health of children and staff.

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"Infectious diseases can be spread from person to person or through surfaces contaminated
by sick individuals. Sick children and staff should rest at home and return to school or work only once they have fully recovered," said the spokesman.

Ms Marini Khamis, senior director of PCF's pre-school management division, said it sent an advisory on the rise of dengue and infectious diseases on Monday to its pre-schools to get them to complete travel declaration forms.

"We have directed all our pre-schools to increase health checks to thrice a day and continue to encourage good personal hygiene practices among children and staff," she said.

Mr Ng Yi Xian, executive director of EtonHouse International Education Group, said: "We have developed comprehensive policies in relation to management of sick children, control and prevention of infections, and hand washing. These policies aim to minimise cross infection in early childhood settings through acknowledged best practices and are strictly adhered to by all staff members."

Some parents with young children said they are reassured by the checks that schools have in place, and are keeping a more watchful eye on their families' health and hygiene.

Housewife Michelle Teo, 42, who has a three-year-old daughter in kindergarten, was asked to fill in a travel declaration form this week.

"It is good to have such precautions," she said.

Madam Evonne Tan, who has a six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, bought surgical masks for her family to use in crowded places.

The 29-year-old administrative assistant also inquired to make sure none of the relatives she planned to visit this weekend had gone to China recently.

"My son's Chinese teacher is going back to China for the weekend... We can't stop them from going back once a year for their reunion. But I know the teachers are also very particular about their own hygiene, and they will be monitored when they come back," she said.

"It is just very bad timing for this to happen at this time."

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