SINGAPORE: The two COVID-19 family clusters identified in recent days are a “sobering reminder of how easy it is for clusters to break out”, said Minister for Education Lawrence Wong on Monday (Jan 4).
Speaking to journalists at Waterway Primary School in Punggol, he said it is a reminder that the pandemic continues and that all necessary precautions have to be taken.
Two Raffles Girls' School (RGS) students were part of a family cluster reported in the last week. The first student is a family member of a marine surveyor at Lloyd's Register Singapore who tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec 29.
The first student was confirmed to have the coronavirus on Dec 31.
The second RGS student visited her schoolmate at her home for a few hours on Dec 27 when the marine surveyor was present. She was identified as a close contact and quarantined after the surveyor tested positive.
After she developed a fever, she was taken to hospital where she tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec 31.
"Fortunately, this took place during the school holidays, and so the contacts among students and friends were quite limited. I think if it had happened under a different circumstance and they had a lot of contact and intermingling, we may have well had a larger cluster," Mr Wong, who is co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force, said on Monday.
“It's once again a reminder to all of us that the pandemic continues, the virus is still circulating and we need to take all the necessary precautions. That will be our priority, continues to be ... even in Phase 3 we maintain all the necessary safe management measures throughout our schools.”
About 3,500 Kindergarten 1 and 40,000 Primary 1 students across Singapore reported to school on Monday for their first day of the academic year.
The Ministry of Education announced previously that Kindergarten 2 and Primary 2 to Primary 6 students would report to school on Tuesday. Secondary schools and Special Education schools also started the academic year on Monday, while junior colleges and the Millennia Institute will start on Jan 11.
This “special arrangement” was made so that teachers can focus on students who are entering school for the first time, and also engage with parents with COVID-19 safe management measures in place.
“Because these are students entering the school for the first time, they are understandably going to be quite anxious and their parents as well, (as) there are new safe management measures that are necessary,” he added.
"I think it's a good arrangement and from what I've seen so far, it is working well."
As students entered Waterway Primary School with their parents from 7am, they were greeted by teachers and had their temperatures taken at the school gate. There were also multiple stations for temperature taking, spaced out for safe distancing, to ensure that there would not be a queue or overcrowding at the gate.
After entering the school, they proceeded to check-in via SafeEntry at the school foyer. Students and their parents who were early were ushered to the canteen, where they sat at designated tables for each class.
Teachers brought students up to their respective classrooms, where they sat in desks that were spread out individually across the room to ensure safe distancing. Parents were directed to another classroom to speak to their children’s form teachers.
Unlike previous years, parents were not able to observe the first lessons or to follow their children closely while their first day of school unfolded. Instead, they had the opportunity to meet and interact with their children’s form teacher on the first day, said the principal of Waterway Primary School Wee-Kwan Liam.
The school welcomed about 280 P1 students and 160 K1 students on Monday, she added.
"Onboarding the Primary 1 and kindergarten children in a way is not different from other years, because ... it is about getting them settled and adapted to a bigger environment, with more children in the classroom and a more structured routine," said Mrs Wee.
“What's additional this year is about safety management measures. The basic approach is about personal hygiene, personal responsibility and social responsibility.
"So in a way, they're not entirely new because the kindergarten children coming into our Primary 1 are familiar, and the kindergarten children having seen all this in public, they are also familiar."
Mr Wong added: "These (safety measures) are basic, but I think they have been effective measures throughout last year, we have been able to keep out COVID-19 from our schools and keep classrooms, keep learning going, we will continue to maintain all of these measures."