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MOE's approach to COVID-19 cases is to 'ring-fence' on a ‘small scale’ instead of closing schools: Ong Ye Kung

MOE's approach to COVID-19 cases is to 'ring-fence' on a ‘small scale’ instead of closing schools: Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung speaking to reporters at Tampines Secondary School on Jul 16, 2020.

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Education’s (MOE) response when there are COVID-19 cases in schools is to "ring-fence" students and teachers, put them on leave of absence and to do it on a "small scale" instead of fully closing schools, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (Jul 16).

His comments come after a 13-year-old girl from Jurong West Secondary School was wrongly diagnosed with COVID-19 because of mislabelled samples at a hospital laboratory. 

Before the error was discovered, it was thought that she had contracted COVID-19 from another student at the school who had earlier tested positive for the virus.

READ: Jurong West Secondary student incorrectly diagnosed with COVID-19, TTSH apologises for 'human error'

Responding to a question about MOE's contingency plan in the event of student-to-student transmission in schools, Mr Ong said: “So the approach is always, you need to ring-fence and quarantine and put students and teachers on that leave of absence, but do it in as small (a) scale as possible. 

“So if you can do that for a class, to keep the school safe, do so, if not (do it) at (the) level. And if not, maybe a school, as opposed to always reacting to a full closure or full opening. I don't think that is appropriate.” 

Speaking to reporters after a visit to Tampines Secondary School for Racial Harmony Day, Mr Ong said he was “very comforted” that parents and teachers mostly understood the actions taken by MOE. 

“Like Jurong West Secondary School, I was most comforted that when we closed that whole level, (Secondary) 1, the other levels, like 90 over per cent came back to school,” he added. 

“That means they understood by ring-fencing that level, the rest of the school is actually safe. Because of the measures, they don't intermingle. So I think so long as we can keep those procedures in place, parents, teachers understand, students understand. Then I think we can make life as normal as we can.” 

READ: Schools to resume CCAs gradually, PE group activities limited to 5 students per group

Noting that many school activities have not resumed, Mr Ong said MOE will have to understand the virus and its transmission, and constantly review its approach. 

"We know that the current state seems to work, and we will have to constantly review, work very hard, always be alert, then gradually bring back more activities," he said.

“That's how we have to act, moving slowly towards an equilibrium and a new normal. We're still in progress.”

Additional reporting by Deborah Wong.

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Source: CNA/hw(gs)

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