JOHOR BAHRU: A transparent bottle containing bright blue hand sanitiser sat on the communal shoe rack at Kastil Kindergarten in Bukit Indah, Johor Bahru on Wednesday (Aug 1).
As dozens of preschoolers filed in for afternoon class, each of them automatically squirted a handful of liquid on their palms. Many laughed gleefully at the cool sensation as they rubbed it on both hands.
While most of the students seemed to enjoy the experience, senior teacher at the kindergarten, Ms Elizabeth Cecilia Calingaction, told Channel NewsAsia that some find it to be a chore.
But she maintained that it was crucial that “all the students” sanitise their hands before entering class daily, especially with the recent spike in hand, food and mouth disease cases (HFMD) in Malaysia.
Measures to prevent the spread of HFMD at Kastil Kindergarten were intensified this week after Malaysian authorities confirmed last Monday that a 17-month-old boy died in Penang after contracting the virus.
“Before (the students) come in, we check their temperature. We also inspect their hands and feet for rashes and their mouths for ulcers,” said the head of human resources at Kastil Kindergarten, which has seven outlets in Malaysia.
Ms Calingaction stated that the kindergartens currently have no students who have HFMD, but it had “a couple of cases” previously.
“When we are aware that a student has contracted the disease, we won’t use the classroom for 10 days. We’ll disinfect the room and air it during this period. The affected child will also be quarantined for a minimum of 10 days,” she added.
STRICTER CHECKS, LOWER ATTENDANCES
At the neighbouring My Imaginative Skool (MIS) preschool and childcare centre, situated adjacent to Bukit Indah’s Aeon Mall, principal Mdm Nazihah Abdul Rahim told Channel NewsAsia that the recent death prompted staff to be stricter when screening young children before allowing them inside.
“Even if it’s a mouth ulcer, we ask parents to check with a doctor first to ensure it’s just a normal ulcer and not HFMD,” said Mdm Nazihah.
“Children under our care are between four months and six years old. There are infants here, and the risk of them getting infected is high. We have to take extra precautions,” she said.
Mdm Nazihah added that most parents were aware of how easily the disease spreads, and she noted how the attendance to the MIS centre has dropped this week since the death in Penang was announced.
Meanwhile, Sunway International School, located in Medini City in southwest Johor, confirmed on Tuesday (Jul 31) that it had two reported cases of HFMD over the last week.
School principal Anthony Petiti told Channel NewsAsia that besides regular screening for its kindergarten as well as Grade 1 students, a cleaning company was hired to ensure that the classrooms and playgrounds were disinfected.
“It hasn’t been fun. We’ve been on the edge managing the different parts of the school. But we have to be part of the solution, and ensure the virus doesn’t spread through the classroom, equipment and toys,” said Mr Petiti.
He explained that the school currently updates the health ministry directly if there are any further cases of HFMD, and will only close its premises after receiving instructions from the authorities.
Supermarket chains in Johor are also taking additional precautions following the spike in HFMD cases in the southern state.
Grocery chain Maslee Express has instructed staff at all its outlets to scrub down trolleys, baskets and handlebars in the stores daily before they open.
A member of staff from the chain’s outlet in Pekan Nanas, who did not want to be named, told Channel NewsAsia that he had to report an hour earlier for work this week to carry out these duties but maintained that it is a small sacrifice to mitigate the spread of HFMD.
“Many of our customers have children. Adults can be a carrier of HFMD and infect it unto children. So we have to do our part,” he said.
At Econsave supermarket in Taman Daya, customer service manager Mr Rizal told Channel NewsAsia that the supermarket trolleys are cleaned weekly and customers with young children are encouraged to use the hand sanitiser before they enter.
“After we heard of the recent death, we want to ensure that our customers are safe shopping with us,” he said.
The comments came after local news outlet Sun Daily reported that the main cause of the outbreak of HFMD in Penang was contact with supermarket trolley handlebars and child rides at shopping malls.
Commenting on whether the same issue is happening in Johor, the state’s health, environment and agriculture executive committee chairman Sahruddin Jamal acknowledged that it is “difficult for authorities” to disinfect shopping malls and supermarkets.
“Children come in and out of these places in large numbers. In these situations, the parents play a crucial role because they ensure that if their children are showing any symptoms, they should be taken to the doctor,” he said.
Dr Sahruddin, who was a general practicioner before he joined politics, outlined five precautions to take to effectively mitigate the spread of HFMD.
He stressed that everyone must maintain good hygiene, wash their hands carefully, ensure cleanliness of the surrounding, conduct temperature checks at childcare centres, pre-school and primary schools as well as ensure that affected areas are disinfected.
But he downplayed fears that HFMD is a deadly virus, explaining that it only becomes fatal when the patient already suffers from pre-existing diseases or infections.
“From what I understand, no child has died from suffering from just HFMD alone. It’s HFMD along with other factors,” he said.
“We must understand, that parents need not panic, as the disease will typically cure by itself. But parents must continue to stay vigilant,” he added.