Students were due to return to schools including Canadian International School of Hong Kong, Stamford American School, and HKCA Po Leung Kuk School from as early as August 13. All 19 kindergartens and schools run by the English Schools Foundation (ESF), Hong Kong’s largest provider of international education, will also be affected as they were due to start Term 1 on August 11.
Secretary for education Kevin Yeung said at a press conference today that campuses cannot reopen earlier than August 17 to protect the health of staff and students. A decision on when they can reopen dates will depend on how the Covid-19 situation develops; the government will reassess the situation at the end of July to give all schools two weeks’ notice to prepare.
“We hope schools can resume classes as early as possible, but we cannot risk students’ health under the current local pandemic situation.
"We have gained some practical experience from the class resumption arrangement from May to June this year, such as resumption by phases and levels, half-day schooling, as well as the various crowd control and health protection measures. We will continue to consider the commencement of the new school year along these directions. "
Local schools start their academic year in September, so may not be affected by the news; however, the majority of kindergartens and international schools in Hong Kong typically return in August. Several international schools, such as Kellett School and Wycombe Abbey School, Hong Kong are not due to return until August 17 so may not be affected by the decision – but the news does create uncertainty for students and teachers.
Also, more than 27,000 cross-border students – Hong Kong residents who commute from the mainland – will be unlikely to return to classes for the start of the new academic year.
It is yet another setback for schools and students in Hong Kong, which have faced a turbulent 12 months. First, classes were suspended for up to one week in November 2019 due to protests across Hong Kong. Then, all campuses were closed from the end of January due to Covid-19 and all classes switched to distance learning; they reopened from late May with strict social distancing measures in place.
School closures are among many new restrictions being imposed across Hong Kong, after it recorded its highest one-day increase in cases yesterday (July 19) since the pandemic began. Face masks are now mandatory in all indoor public area, as well as on public transport, and amusement parks, gyms and 10 other types of venues will remain closed.