SINGAPORE: Schools remain safe places for children and many "significant additional precautionary measures" have been implemented to safeguard the entire system, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Sunday (Mar 22).
In a Facebook post a day before schools were due to reopen after the March holidays, Mr Ong said he had received many emails and messages from parents.
“Some asked why not extend the March holidays, especially given the rising numbers of imported cases and impending border closures. Others, including several students, urged (the Ministry of Education) to keep schools open as they would like to go to school,” said Mr Ong, adding that he has personally replied to many queries.
He also went on explain the reasons behind the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) decision to open school on Monday.
READ: Students, school staff members who travelled during March holidays to be issued 14-day leave of absence: MOE
“First, science. With the virus being around for several months now, there is body of scientific evidence showing that COVID-19 does not affect the young very much as compared to adults. Parents will be familiar with this concept, as this is the case for other diseases such as chicken pox," the minister wrote.
Mr Ong said that there is no evidence to show that the young are vectors or spreaders of the virus.
The reverse appears to be the case, where the young get infected by adults at home, he added. For the “small handful” of students who were infected, Mr Ong said they had caught it outside their schools.
With this in mind, he said it “may not be a bad idea” for students to spend the bulk of their day in school, where lessons and activities are arranged such that they mingle only with their classmates, who are "less susceptible to the virus than adults", the minister said.
“They will be quite a resilient group. If we close schools, many will not stay home, but may run around in the community and mingle with a lot more people, exposing themselves to more risk.
“In that sense, schools remain safe places for children, especially as they seem to be more resilient against the virus,” he said.
The closure of schools will disrupt many lives, especially working parents with limited childcare options with no domestic help, the minister wrote.
"We are particularly concerned about parents who are healthcare workers and providers of essential services," he said.
“Keeping our healthcare system strong is paramount in the fight against COVID-19. Our frontline warriors will be much more assured if their children are in school, meaningfully engaged, in a safe and healthy environment.”
Mr Ong said precautions have been put in place in schools, but there is "no place for complacency".
MOE has consulted healthcare experts and put in place many “significant additional precautionary measures to safeguard the entire system" in order to “maintain the calm situation we enjoyed before the March holidays”.
“We have implemented a leave of absence/stay-home notice policy, with the result that come Monday, every student, teacher, staff, canteen stall operator in school would not have gone overseas since the start of the March school holidays,” he said.
As a further precaution, he added that there will be “100 per cent checks” on their travel history at the school gates.
Students will also only spend their time with two groups - their class and their co-curricular activity groups. All other activities that involve mingling have been suspended. With co-curricular activities suspended for two weeks, Mr Ong said their only social group will be their class.
READ: No entry or transit through Singapore for all short-term visitors amid heightened risk of imported COVID-19 cases: MOH
“Another significant precaution is that every morning, every student who is not feeling well, be it with a cough or sore throat, and not just fever, will have to be in an isolation room or sent home,” he added.
Students will also be seated apart in class, similar to during examinations.
“Teachers and students will continue to upkeep the highest standards of hygiene. There is constant supervision (for the younger students) and reminders for all students to wash their hands properly and regularly, and avoid touching their faces.
“Implemented together, these measures will serve as a robust layer of system defence, complementing the natural defence children may already have, to enable school to continue,” Mr Ong said.