Local and international primary, secondary and pre-schools have stepped up precautions this week against the Coronavirus. The Ministry of Education has ordered schools to suspend mass gatherings, stagger recess times and hold after-school programmes in smaller groups. It has previously imposed a compulsory 14-day leave of absence for all students and staff at local schools returning from Mainland China.
There have been nearly 6,000 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness worldwide since the outbreak began in Wuhan, China last December; more than 130 people have died. There are now 28 confirmed cases of the virus in Singapore to date.
The MOE said: “We are constantly reviewing our measures to protect our schools and students, and update them based on the evolving situation and risk assessment. Before 4 February 2020, all of the confirmed cases were imported ones, with no local transmission. The announcement on 4 February by MOH of a few cases with no travel history to China marked a new phase of local transmission.
“Hence, MOE decided to stop mass events in schools like assemblies and camps. Given that there is no evidence of community spread as yet, there is no need to stop mass events but we are taking precautions for vulnerable groups, such as pre-schools and school children.”
In the international school sector, schools have introduced temperature screening, sanitising and enhanced cleaning measures. School trips, sporting events, field trips and camps, as well as large events on and off campus, have been cancelled; lunch breaks are being staggered. Most CCA’s are continuing as normal.
There are no reported cases of the Coronavirus at any international school in Singapore. However, schools are very keen to reassure parents that everything is being done to safeguard their students.
For example, GESS explains how it is taking proactive measures on its website: “We understand that this is a worrying time for all of our community and especially for our younger students who might not understand some of the procedures or what is going on.
“We will maintain a friendly but strict implementation of procedures to ensure the proactive safety for all. Please cooperate with instructions and we apologise in advance for any disruptions to normal school life. We are adopting a precautionary approach and will revise procedures as the situation develops.”
The EtonHouse group, which owns international schools including EtonHouse (Orchard), Middleton International School (Tampines), EtonHouse International School (Broadrick), has published a book for its students about Coronavirus. Available in hard and soft copies, A New Virus Has Arrived is a bilingual guide for children of all ages.
A spokesperson for EtonHouse said: “The book is distributed electronically and through physical copies amongst parents and children in our schools. It explains the Coronavirus to children in a sensitive and meaningful way. “
The EtonHouse group has has also created at-home learning kits for any of its students on Leave of Absence.
"The kit has at-home learning engagements with a range of fun and stimulating activities for children from 18 months to six years. The kit includes several days of holistic activities with all the materials needed, as well as instructions and information for parents."
In Hong Kong, all schools, including local and international kindergartens, primary, secondary and special schools, will stay closed until March 2. Hong Kong has raised its response level to the Novel Coronavirus outbreak to "emergency".
In an FAQ post on its website, Singapore’s MOE said:
"Ours is a different situation compared to Hong Kong's. Hong Kong is closer to the epicentre of the Wuhan virus outbreak and is closely connected to Mainland China.
"The number of students and staff returning from Mainland China are likely to be many times ours. We assessed that the number of students and staff returning from China recently is manageable, and a 14-day Leave of Absence (LOA) will be more targeted, while allowing schools to open and life carry on as normally as possible, which is an important aspect to safeguard in an emergency situation."