SINGAPORE: Children may be at "more risk" of contracting COVID-19 if schools are closed and parents are not at home to take care of their children, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Mar 27).
Speaking to reporters at the Istana, Mr Lee said school is a "controlled environment", and not all parents can look after children at home if schools are shut.
The Prime Minister added that schools can be safe places and that they provide a "very important service, which helps the kids and helps their parents".
"If you do not have them open, it does not mean that your problem has gone away, because where do the kids go?" he said.
For children who have no parents at home to take care of them if schools are closed, they "may run down to the video arcade, or to the shops and roam around, and may be even more risk of catching COVID-19 than if they were in a controlled environment in school", Mr Lee added.
For children, it is not just about going to school, attending classes and coming home, he said.
“It is also a place where you socialise, where you mix, where the teachers guide you, where you get the enrichment classes, and that is how we level up our kids and make sure that the people from less advantaged families are well taken care of and have a chance to level up,” Mr Lee added.
Children are going to be at a disadvantage if enrichment stops and if teachers are unable to socialise with their students and guide them. He said the children who "bear the burden more" are the ones from lower income families.
He noted information from the Ministry of Education that long-term absenteeism rates have crept up amid the COVID-19 outbreak, because support activities have not been able to carry on and therefore the "support is weaker".
“That is one of the reasons why we think very, very carefully when people ask us, why do we not close the schools,” he said.
Mr Lee said that the Government is watching the school situation “very carefully”. He said that in the COVID-19 cluster at PCF Sparkletots Fengshan, it was mostly teachers who were infected, while it was a "couple of parents" in the Dover Court International School cluster.
READ: Singapore reports 73 new COVID-19 cases, new cluster involving PCF Sparkletots centre linked to 18 cases
"But I think we should look at schools as individual schools rather than one whole system. Just as we look at workplaces as individual workplaces, rather than one whole work system, and if a workplace has a problem, we deal with that," he explained.
"We confine and we rub out that cluster, but it does not mean that I must shut the whole system down."