Coronavirus: Pre-schools step up hygiene measures after Chinese New Year break

Staff of My First Skool in Buangkok Crescent conducting a temperature and visual screening on a child on Jan 28, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Parents who dropped off their kids at a My First Skool pre-school centre in Buangkok Crescent on Tuesday morning (Jan 28) were greeted by teachers and staff donning surgical masks and wielding thermometers, as well as bottles of hand sanitiser.

Over the Chinese New Year weekend, parents were asked to declare their travel plans, and whether they had visited China in the past two weeks - a practice unusual for pre-schools.

These efforts come as the death toll from the Wuhan virus jumped to 106 people in China, with more than 2,000 people infected so far.

Parents who did not submit a declaration online were asked to fill in a form on the spot, using a tablet.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who visited the centre on Tuesday, said these measures are needed to ensure the well-being of children and pre-school staff.

He noted that a 14-day leave of absence had been announced for children and pre-school staff, among others, who visited China over the past two weeks.

There are about 1,900 pre-school centres in Singapore, employing about 25,000 teaching and programme staff.

Early estimates indicate that about 600 employees in total will be affected.

There are 180,000 pre-school pupils in Singapore, around 1,000 of whom would be similarly affected.

"This is a stepped-up precautionary measure because in pre-schools, and other social facilities, we have more vulnerable communities like young children, elderly persons with disabilities, and so on," said Mr Lee.

"We encourage (those taking a leave of absence) to stay at home and stay away from crowded areas."

Staff of My First Skool pre-school at Buangkok Crescent sanitising the premises on Jan 28, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

There are more than 140 My First Skool pre-school centres, run by NTUC First Campus.

Ms Thian Ai Ling, general manager of My First Skool, said on Tuesday that about 2 per cent of staff across the centres will be taking a leave of absence, adding that "manpower crunch is not an issue".

She said: "Usually, we have additional staff with us... who provide a layer of support for all our centres for situations when there is staff on long hospitalisation leave or medical leave. So we are not unduly concerned at this point."

She added that the pre-school centres have existing health and safety precautions in place such as temperature-taking twice a day, even on regular "peacetime" days.

But the frequency has increased now to thrice or four times a day as needed, depending on how long the child is present at the centre.

Mr Lee Tai Yun, 31, who dropped his daughter off in Buangkok Crescent on Tuesday, said pre-school centres are a "volatile environment", with many kids coming in close proximity to each other.

"So on a normal basis, there are safeguards in place like cleaning hands and feet, and temperature taking. But I think these added precautions in a time like this will reassure and build confidence in parents," said the data analyst.

Police officer Janani Rajendran filling up a travel declaration form upon dropping her six-year-old daughter off at My First Skool in Buangkok Crescent. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Police officer Janani Rajendran, 31, whose daughter also goes to the pre-school, urged parents to declare their travel history properly.

"I hope all parents will follow what the Government has come up with and stay at home or keep their child at home if they should."

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A 14-day leave of absence will be imposed for students and workers in schools, healthcare and eldercare, upon their return to Singapore from China - one of the measures by Singapore's multi-ministry task force to curb the spread of the Wuhan virus.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung had said that from Wednesday, schools will start daily temperature-taking exercises and will monitor students and staff for flu-like symptoms.

Students on leave of absence will take part in home-based learning.

The move is expected to affect 800 students, working out to an average of two to three students per school.

A total of five people, including both students and staff, had been to central China's Hubei province in the past 14 days. This ranged from the primary school level upwards.

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