SINGAPORE: A total of 967 students and employees from schools in Singapore have been placed on a leave of absence because of their recent travel history to China, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Friday (Jan 31).
MOE had announced on Monday that students and staff members of government schools - including kindergartens, primary, secondary, special education schools, junior colleges and the Millenia Institute, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) - will have to take a compulsory leave of absence after returning from China as part of measures to protect schools from the Wuhan virus.
"A leave of absence is issued to students and staff who are healthy, but have recently travelled to mainland China. It is a precautionary measure," MOE said.
"Although (not legally binding), we strongly urge those on a leave of absence to be socially responsible and comply with it."
The leave of absence provisions cover students, teachers, non-teaching staff such as administrators as well as other non-school staff, including canteen vendors, security guards, kindergarten and student care centre staff.
As of Jan 30, 852 students and 115 staff were on leave of absence across schools, polytechnics and ITE.
The breakdown is as follows:
"As per the health ministry’s guidelines, students who have visited Hubei and are currently serving their leave of absence may be issued with quarantine orders if they are at a higher risk," MOE said.
"Otherwise, they will continue to serve their 14-day leave of absence."
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Students who have been placed on leave of absence will be supported by a home-based learning plan, said MOE.
"Teachers will assign work from the textbook and workbook to help the affected students keep up with their classmates," said MOE.
"Students will also have access to the Singapore Student Learning Space, an online platform with a range of curriculum-aligned resources to support their learning."
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MOE UPDATES FAQS ON WUHAN VIRUS
The education ministry also updated its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on its website, explaining some of the measures it has, and has not, taken.
One question addressed the provision of hand sanitisers in classrooms. MOE said that hand sanitisers are not necessary if hands are washed thoroughly and regularly with soap.
"Some individuals may also be sensitive to sanitisers. Toilets in our schools and institutes of higher learning are well stocked with liquid soap. We will also be stepping up the cleaning of toilets to ensure they are clean."
It also explained why schools are continuing to hold assemblies, co-curricular activities and other events.
"There is yet to be evidence of community spread of the Wuhan virus in Singapore," the ministry said.
"With the precautions we are taking such as temperature taking and leave of absence, health experts have advised that schools can continue to have mass sessions like assembly."
On the issue of delaying the opening of schools for seven or 14 days after the Chinese New Year holidays, like Hong Kong did, MOE said that such a measure was not necessary.
"We had considered this, took advice from medical experts, and concluded that it is not necessary to do so, because there is currently no evidence of community spread of the virus in Singapore," it said.
"Ours is a different situation compared to Hong Kong's. Hong Kong is closer to the epicentre of the Wuhan virus outbreak and is closely connected to mainland China. The number of students and staff returning from mainland China are likely to be many times ours."
The ministry added: "We assessed that the number of students and staff returning from China recently is manageable, and a 14-day leave of absence will be more targeted, while allowing schools to open and life carry on as normally as possible, which is an important aspect to safeguard in an emergency situation."
On Thursday, Singapore announced three new confirmed cases of the Wuhan virus, bringing the total of infected patients in the country to 13. All cases to date are Chinese nationals.
The World Health Organization on Thursday declared a global emergency over the virus, which has also spread to about 20 other countries.
As of Friday, more than 9,800 people have been infected globally, with 213 dead.
No deaths have been reported outside China.