Singapore—Despite the clamour, mostly from parents, to extend the March holidays, classes opened on Monday (March 23), and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung made the case on Sunday night in a Facebook post that schools were a safer place for children than elsewhere amid the current coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Ong said that he has received many messages from parents and students, and he has “personally replied” to many of them.
Not all have asked for a postponement of the school opening, as some have requested for classes to go on, “as they would like to go to school.”
The Education Minister explained MOE’s reasons for keeping schools open, making the case for why schools are safe for children at this time.
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He laid out three points:
Number one, that the coronavirus affects children considerably less than it does adults. Nor do children seem to spread the virus. He pointed out that children who get infected do so through adults spreading the coronavirus in their homes, according to the Group Director of Medicine at NUHS and Chair of the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network Professor Dale Fisher.
“Indeed, for the small handful of our students (including those from Institutes of Higher Learning) who were infected, every single one caught it outside of their schools,” Mr Ong wrote.
Furthermore, at school, children are mostly in the company of their classmates only, “who are less susceptible to the virus than adults.”
This, Mr Ong says, makes them “quite a resilient group.”
The opposite of this, if schools are closed, children may roam free pithing communities and have the opportunity to interact with more adults, thus raising their risk of infection.
“In that sense, schools remain safe places for children, especially as they seem to be more resilient against the virus,” he wrote.
The next point he made concerns parents who are healthcare workers and providers of essential services, whose work would be disrupted if their children have no school.
Thirdly, additional precautions have been put in place, and children who show any illness will immediately be separated or sent home.
Many parents, however, are still unconvinced by the reasons the Education Minister presented and took exception to him citing WHO’s Professor Fisher’s points.
Lee Joon Sen wrote, “It seems you are alluding that the young can’t spread this virus, simply because there is no evidence thus far, an advice obtained by Prof Dale Fisher. However, if one were to search for what Prof Fisher actually said, he says that ‘We know that younger people are unlikely to get serious illness, but they can be an important part of transmission and every young person in Singapore has parents and grandparents who are older.’ This is contrary to what you may be alluding to. I feel it is important for us to be careful with what we write in this difficult period, lest our young become socially irresponsible, thinking that they aren’t vectors or spreaders of the virus. This is exactly what is happening in in US, where many of their young have a “party must go on” attitude since it is the spring break.
Others provided links to articles that show that young people do get sick with Covid-19.
Yet other parents pointed out that while schools may be safe, the public transport they take may pose risks, especially with the WHO saying “airborne precautions” should be taken.
Some parents appealed for Mr Ong to listen to their concerns.
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