School Reopening: Can Singapore Show the Way?

Reopening schools in COVID-19 affected countries will require many considerations. What can countries like Hong Kong, Vietnam and the UAE learn from Singapore where schools have stayed open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

In Singapore, what precautionary measures are schools taking to safeguard students while on campus?

COVID-19 remains a very fluid situation, and schools in both countries have been changing and updating their precautionary measures on a day-to-day basis. What started with a simple temperature check at the school gate and declaration of any travel to Mainland China, has quickly escalated to more thorough health checks and travel declarations.

Countries like Singapore have been quick to roll out measures to protect students and staff – and this fully complies with the recent guidance issued by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO). This calls for all schools that remain open to:

  • Provide children with information about how to protect themselves
  • Promote best hand-washing and hygiene practices and provide hygiene supplies
  • Clean and disinfect school buildings, especially water and sanitation facilities

Singapore stepped up its precautions against COVID-19 in February after the government raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) alert level to Orange. The Ministry of Education (MOE) then ordered all schools to suspend mass gatherings such as assemblies, PTA movie nights, international fairs, and parent coffee mornings; stagger recess and lunch break times; and hold any after-school programmes in smaller groups. External school activities that are conducted at external or public venues, as well as inter-school activities such as sporting tournaments, have also been cancelled.

Most schools in Singapore and Thailand post regular updates on COVID-19 precautionary measures

Temperature checks
International schools are temperature screening all staff, students and visitors; anyone with a temperature above 37.5C is not allowed to enter the campus or will be sent home if already in school. These checks now also apply to school suppliers including canteen vendors, cleaners, security guards and school bus drivers.

Temperature checks are typically taken at the school gate during drop-off, although some schools ask for a child’s temperature to be taken at home. For example, Singapore American School requires all parents to complete a handwritten temperature screening slip every morning for their child. And students at UWCSEA have to submit their temperature online every morning. School nurses are also looking out for other flu-like symptoms such as cough and runny nose.

ISS International School explains what has become standard procedure at most international schools in Singapore.

“All ISS staff and students are temperature-checked as they enter the school's premises in the morning, and once more around noon. Anyone with a temperature or deemed to be unwell with visual symptoms are given masks and requested to visit a doctor immediately and, if necessary, stay at home while they are unwell.”

Hand sanitisers are now commonplace in corridors and canteens in most schools, and students are encouraged to wash hands regularly. In general, schools follow the WHO’s advice that there is no need to wear a mask as an added precautionary measure, unless you are sneezing or coughing.

Restricted visitors
Schools are restricting entry points and gates to better manage who is accessing their campus. Many schools are ‘closed’ to external visitors; anyone who is permitted to enter has to complete a self-declaration form to confirm that they do not have any flu symptoms and have not travelled to any restricted or affected countries.

As ISS International School explains: “Elementary school parents, guardians and domestic helpers picking up children are temperature-checked and asked to wait within a specific area inside the school gates. All non-essential access to the school is currently being managed, limiting access to visitors unless absolutely necessary.”

Travel declaration forms like this need to be completed either online or at the security gate before entering school

Self-declaration forms
While schools in Singapore remain open to the majority of their teachers and students, they are very much closed temporarily to anyone who has travelled through or from a country on their government’s list of virus-affected countries and countries with ongoing local transmission. The message is clear: you must not send your child to school.

If anyone is in any doubt about the severity of breaching these rules, then consider this. Last week, Singapore’s MOE terminated the student passes of two international students at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) for breaching their 14-day quarantine.

“It is imperative that all students issued with a stay-home notice comply strictly with its requirements to limit the risk from potential imported cases and to safeguard our community.”

Next: What travel restrictions apply to staff and students in Singapore?

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