Students and teachers returning from Mainland China to Singapore will have to take a compulsory leave of absence, as the Ministry of Education steps up measures to prevent the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus. All local and international schools will reopen as usual after the Chinese New Year holiday.
There have been more than 2,300 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness worldwide since the outbreak began in Wuhan, China last December; 80 people have died. There are seven confirmed cases of the virus in Singapore to date.
The 14 days leave of absence applies to all students and staff of government schools, including MOE kindergartens, primary, secondary, special education schools, junior colleges and the Millenia Institute, who have returned from Mainland China since January 15. This does not yet apply to students and staff at international schools in Singapore, although the MOE will be contacting the private sector to discuss implementing similar measures.
The MOE said: "The Leave of Absence (LOA) will be valid for a period of 14 days, starting from the day after arrival in Singapore.
"The LOA applies to students and staff from polytechnics and ITE who return from Mainland China on 14 January 2020 or later, and students and staff from schools who return from Mainland China on 15 January 2020 or later."
Students on leave of absence will be supported through a home-based learning plan, the MOE added.
"The latest LOA measure allows MOE to better mitigate the potential risks posed by travel in our schools and institutions, while enabling them to continue with their usual learning and other activities."
The LOA is expected to affect an estimated 800 students returning from China, who will be asked to have temperature checks twice a day for 14 days from their return. It also applies to people working in the government's healthcare system and with the elderly.
At a press conference today (Monday), health minister Gan Kim Yong, who is chair of Singapore's multi-ministry task force set up in response to the Coronavirus outbreak, said that the government would "spare no effort to keep Singaporeans safe".
"The situation is rapidly evolving. We will institute more measures if necessary."
And minister for social and family development in Singapore, Desmond Lee, said:
"I apologise for the inconvenience that this may cause to our parents, pre-schoolers, preschool operators and staff. We seek your understanding and support for these measures to keep our community, our families and our children safe and healthy. Let’s work together."
Elsewhere in South East Asia, all schools in Hong Kong – including local and international kindergartens, primary, secondary and special schools – will stay closed until February 17. Read more here. The Chinese New Year holiday has been extended by two weeks as Hong Kong raises its response level to the Coronavirus outbreak to "emergency".
Here in Singapore, while many parents have welcomed news of the compulsory LOA across social media, there have been requests for the government to close all schools for two weeks.
The MOE says that schools will start daily temperature taking exercises from Wednesday, when they reopen after the Chinese New Year holiday; they will monitor students and staff for any signs of flu-like symptoms. And, from Wednesday, temperature screening will cover all incoming flights to Singapore.
Last week, the Singapore's Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) advised all pre-schools and student care centres to "be vigilant in conducting health checks and to monitor the health of children and staff; and to encourage children and staff to observe good personal and environmental hygiene". Pre-schools including PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots and EtonHouse – as well as many primary and secondary schools – asked parents and staff to declare their travel plans over the Chinese New Year weekend.