The holidays for Chinese New Year are drawing to a close in Singapore as the celebrations wind down. But this year’s Lunar New Year weekend also brought with it news of a rapidly spreading coronavirus, dubbed the Wuhan virus for its place of origin.
Singapore has a number of confirmed cases of the virus and with schools, polytechnics, junior colleges and universities now beginning to open, the government has rushed to allay fears, especially those of parents of school-going children.
No delay in the opening of Singapore schools
As the time came for schools to reopen, various online forums and social media platforms were flooded with requests from parents for schools to delay opening by a couple of weeks, like Hong Kong is doing. Many parents were especially worried because the incubation period of the virus is 14 days.
The Ministry of Education however makes a distinction between the situations in Hong Kong and Singapore stating that upon advice from medical experts it has been determined that “there is currently no evidence of community spread of the virus in Singapore.”
Additionally, they have also said that since Hong Kong is closer to the epicentre of the Wuhan virus outbreak, the number of students and staff returning from Mainland China are likely to be many times more than Singapore, with the number returning to the island nation “manageable”.
Thus, to allow “allowing schools to open and life carry on as normally as possible”, the MOE has instituted a Leave of Absence for those returning from China.
Besides students, the LOA provision also applies to vendors such as canteen staff, security guards and freelance coaches; school staff, including teaching staff, non-teaching staff such as administrators and others and; non-school staff like after care and Student Care Centre staff.
LOAs are however not being issued to students who had relatives or friends from China visiting them but had no travel history to Mainland China.
During the LOA, students and staff are expected to:
- Remain contactable at all times
- Remain in the place of residence as much as possible
- Minimise visitors to the place of residence
- Minimise time spent in public places and contact with others
- Monitor their health and their temperature
- (For Students) Follow their home-based learning plan closely to continue with their learning
Standard Operating Procedures in Singapore schools
The standard operating procedure (SOP) that Singapore schools and workplaces stringently put in place after the SARS virus outbreak have been reinstated:
- On the first day of school, submission of the travel declaration form is compulsory
- Students will be required to use their individual thermometers to take and record their temperatures, which should be between 36.6°C to 37.2°C
- Students whose temperature is above this range will be given a mask, seated in a secluded area and their temperature measured an hour later
- If the temperature is within the normal range by then, they will be sent to class
- If the temperature is still not in the normal range, the child’s parents will be contacted to take him/her to the clinic
- Those with fever or flu-like symptoms will be covered under the LOA and can return to school only after they have fully recovered
Government Quarantine Facilities (GQFs)
For those students who do not have suitable accommodation, there are three university hostels designated as Government Quarantine Facilities (GQFs). These are being readied to be on standby and will be used only if the number of people served with QOs goes up or if students required to serve QOs do not have suitable accommodation.
GQFs have measures in place to ensure that persons served with QOs do not mingle with students and others around them:
- Those served with QOs are to stay in their designated rooms at all times within the allocated quarantine period
- They are not allowed to use common facilities within the GQF
- They are not allowed visitors
- All food and necessary supplies to be delivered to their rooms
- All staff working at the GQFs to be provided with personal protective equipment, such as masks, as advised by the Ministry of Health (MOH)
- GQFs to undergo rigorous cleansing and hygiene regimes according to MOH and National Environment Agency (NEA) guidelines