129 students, 17 school staff members tested positive for COVID-19 over last three months: Chan Chun Sing
SINGAPORE: Over the last three months, 129 students - representing 0.03 per cent of Singapore's total student population - tested positive for COVID-19, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Friday (Jul 30).
The students range from primary to pre-university levels, he said in a Facebook post, adding that 17 school staff members were also found to have COVID-19 in the same period.
He said that the Ministry of Education (MOE) will continue to adopt a "targeted" approach to deal with COVID-19 cases in schools, such as isolating close contacts of the positive case through a leave of absence or quarantine order.
"In exceptional cases where the situation is unclear, we may put the entire school on HBL (home-based learning) to break any possible transmission as well as give Ministry of Health time to test and investigate thoroughly before re-opening the school," he said.
"We will continue to monitor the situation closely and review if any adjustment is needed in line with national guidelines, especially as we transit towards managing COVID-19 as an endemic disease."
READ: 'Practically all' social, workplace COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted in 'truly endemic state': Gan Kim Yong
Mr Chan said that he had received feedback from parents who were keen on transiting to full home-based learning and others who were against this, and said that such mixed views were understandable.
Singapore is "unlikely" to see zero community cases in the short term, and vaccination for younger children is currently unavailable, he said.
"DISRUPTION TO NORMALCY"
However, full home-based learning can come at a significant cost to students’ learning, and socio-emotional and mental well-being, he said.
In addition, not all of them have conducive home environments for home-based learning and there are many parents who have to scramble to make alternative care arrangements, which may not necessarily be safer for their children, he added.
Besides this, he said teachers also have to juggle the additional demands of preparing and conducting online lessons while taking care of their families.
"We all know that disruption to normalcy can cause fear, stress and despair, which has serious and real consequences in the long term. What then would be the sustainable solution going forward?" Mr Chan said.
"As a parent myself, I would like to reassure fellow parents that our schools remain safe places for learning. We have implemented stringent safe management measures (SMMs) to minimise transmission risks," he said, adding that surveillance measures are in place to detect potential COVID-19 cases as soon as possible.
Ringfencing measures such as placing students and staff members on leave of absence if their household members are serving quarantine orders will also be taken to keep potential cases out of schools, he said.
READ: Mandatory COVID-19 tests for all students, staff at Punggol Primary School after cases detected
The minister's latest comments come as a new COVID-19 cluster linked to a cleaner at Punggol Primary School was identified on Tuesday. As of Thursday, there were 12 cases in the cluster.
All students and staff members of the school will have to undergo mandatory swab tests as part of precautionary efforts to safeguard them and to prevent any possible spread to the community, said MOE.
Home-based learning will also be implemented for all students of Punggol Primary School until Aug 6.