It is necessary to tighten epidemic prevention and control measures in schools
The epidemic situation is deteriorating rapidly. As a new academic year is about to kick off, anti-epidemic work in schools become a focus of public concern. Schools have heavy duties and face many challenges in the anti-epidemic battle. The Education Bureau (EB) has already issued a series of guidelines for schools, parents and students to follow. Afterwards, attention must be given to changes in the situation so as to adjust anti-epidemic measures accordingly in time. However, schools do not exist in isolation, and anti-epidemic work on campuses in fact is part of Hong Kong's anti-epidemic effort. Only when whole society is safe, can schools be safe. Only when everyone contributes to the anti-epidemic effort, can students' well-being be protected.
The number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong remains high in the past days, approaching 10,000 the day before yesterday. It is just a matter of time before it exceeds 10,000. It is against this backdrop that a new school year starts. School authorities and parents have conflicting feelings. On the one hand, they are concerned with the development of the epidemic situation and worry about students' safety. On the other hand, schools have not been able to operate normally for over two years with students becoming one of the biggest victimized groups. Schools, parents and students all do not want to "backtrack" and replace face-to-face classes with online ones. For this, EB has issued new guidelines. Half-day face-to-face class arrangements will be maintained. Students must take a rapid antigen test (RAT) daily, and the first test must be taken two days before school starts. Parents escorting children to and from school must swipe the "LeaveHomeSafe" application to gain entry into school campuses, and parents with an Amber Code are banned from entry. It should be said that such guidelines accord with the present reality and meet the expectation of parents and society.
However, the epidemic situation is dynamic, so education authority's response must also be dynamic. Half-day face-to-face classes are the benchmark while full-day classes the goal. Nothing is wrong with such an orientation. But under the current circumstances, it is necessary to properly tighten anti-epidemic measures. For example, should extracurricular activities that require students to take off face masks be suspended for the time being? As another example, a school could apply for resuming full-day face-to-face learning if 90 per cent or more of its teachers and students have received two doses of vaccines. Should the requirement be tightened to three-dose vaccination? As yet another example, under what circumstance should a school give up face-to-face classes? The education authority must have bottom-line thinking and visualise worst-case scenarios while making the best preparations. It should prepare various scenarios and issue unambiguous guidelines in time so that there are rules for schools, parents and students to follow. Then, they could calmly cope with it no matter how the epidemic situation changes.
Schools are a part of society. A well-done epidemic prevention job in schools has important significance of illumination for whole society's battle against the virus. And vice versa, if the epidemic prevention work in the whole of Hong Kong is well done, then the work in schools won't be done so badly either. In the past two years or so, outbreaks of the epidemic has been reported in schools from time to time, but basically in small-scales and with sporadic cases. There have been no large-scale outbreaks nor any domino effect, which proves schools have done well in fighting the virus to promptly cut off its transmission chains. Looking more closely, the infected students did not get the infection on campus but were infected by family members or in society. To a certain extent, schools are a victim. This fact reminds us that maintaining safety in whole society is a prerequisite for campus safety. If the epidemic situation in society deteriorates, it would be unrealistic to expect schools to be invulnerable to the virus.
Therefore, if we care about epidemic prevention in schools, we ourselves must set a good example by devoting personal efforts to epidemic prevention in the first place. Such as: those parents who have not received either one or all three doses of vaccines should rush to get vaccinated; and parents should make arrangements for their children to get vaccinated as promptly as possible. The low vaccination rate for both the elderly and children is a weakness in Hong Kong's anti-epidemic effort. In particular, the vaccination rate for children aged under three is just about 10 per cent, so more efforts should be devoted in this regard. Moreover, parents taking RAT everyday would help protect their children's safety. If there is an outbreak in a family, the student(s) in the family must report it in time so that school authorities concerned could react promptly.
Caring about students' safety is no empty talk. Campus safety depends on whole society's joint efforts. The education authority is on the alert and combat-ready and prepared to react proactively, which is praiseworthy. But whole society has a common responsibility. The SAR Government has recently launched a new round of anti-epidemic measures including requiring diners at a banquet with eight people or more to show proof of a negative RAT. But to avoid taking the test, some diners pretend that they do not know the relatives or friends in company with them. Some restaurants also complain that "the measure is too difficult to implement" just because they think it troublesome and do not want to offend their customers. However, if anti-epidemic measures are not tightened to check the escalation of the epidemic situation, everyone will fall prey to it in the end. Isn't the lesson we have learned in this regard not profound enough? In order to protect school safety and students' well-being, in order not to backtrack in our anti-epidemic campaign, whole society must get united as one and join efforts to weather the storm of the epidemic.
30 August 2022