Parents anxious over rise in Covid-19 cases among children but attendance normal at pre-schools, tuition centres

Primary 6 students attending lessons at Ignite Tuition Centre. PHOTO: MS JOYCELYN NG

SINGAPORE - With the recent increase in Covid-19 infections among children under 12 years old, Madam Siti Zurina Saidi is anxious about letting her six-year-old son attend kindergarten.

If the boy tests positive for the virus, her 76-year-old father and 68-year-old mother - who live with the family in a five-room flat in Choa Chu Kang - will also be at risk.

Madam Zurina, 41, a staff manager at a local retail pharmacy chain, on Thursday (Sept 23) told The Straits Times that her job requires her to interact with people daily.

Now, there is the added stress of making sure her child and elderly parents do not contract Covid-19, she said.

Madam Zurina, her husband and parents are all fully vaccinated, and her father got his booster shot a few days ago.

In recent weeks, parents of young children under 12 have been worried about the surge in Covid-19 cases among young children.

So far, none of the Covid-19 vaccines available in Singapore has been approved for use in children under 12.

The seven parents who ST spoke to said they are concerned about their children falling ill and spreading the virus to other family members.

The number of Covid-19 infections here has doubled twice since Aug 23 and could double three more times before falling and stabilising, the authorities have said.

In the past week, clusters have emerged at LearnJoy Education Centre, a tuition centre in Bedok North, and the My Little Campus pre-school in Yishun.

On Wednesday, 85 of the 1,453 local cases reported were children under 12.

Since Sept 15, 492 out of the 8,201 local cases, or about 5.9 per cent, have been children under 12, based on data gleaned from the Health Ministry's daily updates.

There are now 88 children in hospital infected with Covid-19 but no child has needed intensive care or oxygen supplementation.

On Sept 14, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary told Parliament that there had been 367 cases of Covid-19 among children below the age of 12, accounting for 0.6 per cent of all local infections at the time.

Parents said the situation has been complicated by the coming year-end examinations. The Ministry of Education (MOE) on Sept 18 said all primary schools will switch to full home-based learning for Primary 1 to 5 pupils from Monday (Sept 27) to Oct 6.

Madam Zurina said official guidelines for pupils are now not as clear as they had been in the past.

Housewife Sim Fenny, 44, who has an 11-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son, said that while she trusts that schools are doing all they can, she has considered keeping her children at home.

She said: "I'm actually quite concerned about letting them go to school. No doubt the school may be taking all the preventive measures, but you have many kids coming together."

Part-time administrative worker Mardiana Sapari, 34, who has a seven-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter, said: "If they are vaccinated, at least they have some sort of shield from the virus."

Pharmaceutical firm Pfizer-BioNTech on Monday said its Covid-19 vaccine has been proven to be effective for children aged five to 11 but Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has said that vaccination for this age group is likely to start only next year, after trials are completed.

But a check with several pre-schools and tuition centres found that attendance has been unaffected so far.

Ms Evelyn Tay, chief operating officer and group human resources director at EtonHouse International Education Group, said many of the EtonHouse pre-schools continue to have full attendance.

At the E-Bridge pre-schools - another chain managed by the same group - the attendance rate across all schools has been about 80 per cent since the start of the month.

There are 10 EtonHouse and 20 E-Bridge pre-schools.

Ms Tay said that to keep parents reassured, maintaining open communications and having consistency in practice are key.

She said: "We diligently update our community on the common outbreaks in the school. If anyone in the class receives a quarantine order, he is immediately isolated and parents of children in the same class are informed.

"ART (antigen rapid testing) is conducted regularly among staff. Weekly ART for all staff will start from Oct 1."

At Ignite Tuition Centre, lessons for pupils between Kindergarten 2 and Primary 5 have shifted online since Monday. Primary 6 pupils can choose to attend virtual classes or physical lessons at the centres.

Ms Joycelyn Ng, Ignite Tuition Centre's operations manager, said: "For Primary 6 pupils, about 75 to 80 per cent are attending lessons on site, while the others have opted for virtual classes as they have yet to be eligible for vaccination due to later birthdays."

ST has contacted MOE and the Early Childhood Development Agency for comment.

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