Coronavirus: No need to suspend school, says Ong Ye Kung, after some parents express concern about children’s safety

Students from Farrer Park Primary School playing at the quadrangle of the school, on Feb 7, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - There is no need to suspend school, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung stressed on Friday (Feb 7), after some parents expressed concern about their children's safety even as Singapore raised its response to the coronavirus outbreak to Orange.

"Some parents have suggested suspending school. But this is a drastic move that will disrupt life for many families, and it is also not realistic to expect older children to stay home the whole time school is closed," he said in a Facebook post on Friday night (Feb 7).

System-wide, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has implemented enhanced measures, including suspending inter-school activities and external activities until the end of the March school holidays.

"This is to reduce the mixing of students across schools and exposure to large crowds at public places", said Mr Ong.

"We have also put in place a stringent hygiene regime, ensuring students and staff practise good personal hygiene, and also social hygiene protocols such as wiping down surfaces after use," he added.

Mr Ong said: "Should there be wide community spread - which we hope will not happen - and given all the measures we have taken, schools may actually be one of the safest places for our students.

"We are calling on our 33,000 educators to make that happen," he said.

The ministry will continue to monitor the situation and do the necessary steps to keep our people safe.

MOE announced the enhanced measures on Friday, the same day the Health Ministry raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition to code orange, following evidence of local transmissions of the virus.

Dorscon orange means that the outbreak is deemed to have moderate to high public health impact.

MOE will first enhance its social distancing measures across all its schools, said director of schools Liew Wei Li.

This means that all external school activities and inter-school activities, including the National School Games and Learning Journeys, will be suspended until the end of the March school holidays, which last from March 14 to 22.

MOE will reassess the situation again after this period, said Ms Liew.

"The aim is to reduce intermingling among students across schools, and reduce their prolonged exposure to crowds to mitigate the risk of transmission," she added.

The second set of measures involve hygiene protocols in schools.

In primary schools, teachers will take students to the toilet to wash their hands before recess and snack breaks, while in secondary schools, teachers will remind them to do so.

As schools commemorate Total Defence Day next week, a new protocol will also be put in place, getting students to clean their eating surfaces after their meals, in consideration of those coming after them.

Ms Liew said that the measures were being implemented as schoolchildren are considered "a vulnerable group".

MOE later added in a statement that it had rolled out an educational package to teach students about the virus transmission, and what they can do to prevent it.

The ministry further urged all students and staff to practise good personal hygiene, including washing their hands frequently with soap, wearing a surgical mask if they have a cough or runny nose, and seeing a doctor and staying home from school if they are sick.

Earlier this week, MOE had announced other measures to combat the virus, including suspension of large group and communal activities such as assemblies and camps, staggered recess times, and co-curricular activities (CCAs) being organised in smaller groups.

Ms Liew said on Friday that she did not rule out taking additional preventive measures in schools, such as disinfection, alternative seating arrangements and suspension of CCAs if there are more cases in schools here.

"This way, we can continue on with meaningful learning even as we keep our students and our staff safe," she said.

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