Wuhan virus: 'Leave of absence' step to affect 800 students in Singapore

They will have to do home-based learning; schools to start taking temperature daily

The move is expected to affect an estimated 800 students returning from China from around mid-January, who will be asked to stay at home. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

All students and school staff who returned from mainland China in the past two weeks will have to take 14 days' leave of absence, as a precautionary measure against the Wuhan virus.

The move will apply to those in Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, special education schools, junior colleges and the Millennia Institute, who arrived in Singapore on Jan 15 or later.

It will also apply to students and staff from polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education who returned on Jan 14 or later.

The same measures will also apply to staff and pupils at pre-schools. This means that affected persons can return to school or work only 15 days after they arrive in Singapore, provided they are well. For example, for someone who arrived in Singapore yesterday, the earliest date he can be back in school is Feb 11.

"In the next few days, we enter a sensitive period and we want to minimise the risk of more imported cases," said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung during a press conference yesterday, which was attended by several fourth-generation ministers.

From tomorrow, schools will start daily temperature-taking exercises and will monitor students and staff for flu-like symptoms.

Meanwhile, students on leave of absence will take part in home-based learning, Mr Ong said, adding that this will not be an "extended holiday" for them.

"As the numbers per school are not big, teachers will make the extra effort to reach out and support them so that they can catch up on their lessons at home," he said.

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.

Mr Ong said MOE will contact other private institutions, such as international schools, to undertake similar precautions. He added that the six autonomous universities have been advised to implement similar measures and have agreed. Three university hostels have been designated as government quarantine facilities.

In a statement yesterday, MOE also reminded parents to seek immediate medical attention for their children if they are unwell, and ensure that they recover fully before they return to school for classes.

Mr Ong, in a Facebook post yesterday, said that some parents have asked if MOE will close schools. He explained that there is no need to do so, as there is currently no community spread and the virus is contained among those who travelled to Wuhan.

Ms Rozanah Roza, who has a nine-year-old son, believes the precautionary measures in place for schools are a good idea.

"At least they get to monitor and confirm that the children are healthy first, before allowing them to return to school," said the 33-year-old, who is self-employed.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said that similar measures will be put in place in pre-schools, as well as in community service organisations where employees may have sustained interaction with vulnerable groups, such as children and seniors.

There are about 1,900 pre-school centres in Singapore, which employ approximately 25,000 teaching and programme staff. An estimated 500 to 600 staff would have gone to or returned from China during this period, Mr Lee said.

He added that there are 180,000 pre-school pupils in Singapore, around 1,000 of whom would be similarly affected.

Organisations such as activity centres for those with disabilities and senior group homes will also put in place a leave-of-absence system. Employers should grant the leave of absence as paid leave, over and above the affected staff member's annual leave entitlement, Mr Lee said in a Facebook post.

"I apologise for the inconvenience to our social service colleagues and the people whom we serve for the inconvenience that our measures will cause to them, as they make adjustments to accommodate," he said.

"We seek your understanding and support for these measures."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2020, with the headline Wuhan virus: 'Leave of absence' step to affect 800 students in Singapore. Subscribe