Lee Pei Qi
Tue, May 06, 2008
The Straits Times
Schools reopen, but cases still up

AT LEAST 10 preschools reopened yesterday after a 10-day closure due to outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) among their pupils, but the number of cases has remained close to record levels.

The Ministry of Health said yesterday that 1,465 cases surfaced in the week ending last Saturday - just one fewer than the record high in the previous week.

And up to 3pm yesterday, 234 new cases have emerged.

This year, more than 10,000 cases of the illness, which usually strikes children, have been reported.

The Health Ministry has ordered two more schools shut for 10 days; another four will shut down voluntarily for just as long so they can be cleaned and the chain of transmission broken.

Forced closure is ordered when a place has at least 13 sick children and when the transmission of the virus has not been broken after 15 days.

The disease, usually a mild, self-limiting one, can be caused by several types of viruses and is common here. But it seems to be particularly virulent this year, possibly because of the larger number of cases caused by the more dangerous EV71 virus.

Schools that have reopened following enforced closure have stepped up their hygiene standards and checks on their young charges.

St Andrew's Cathedral Child Development Centre, which had 13 HFMD cases and was among the schools forced to close, has installed a sanitiser dispenser so the children can disinfect their hands before entering the centre.

Centre supervisor Adrienne Soon said: 'We have to take whatever precautions we can because we really don't want this thing to repeat.'

At Just Kids@Jurong, parents are barred from entering the centre so they do not unwittingly track in any form of the bug, said centre manager Eileen Hee.

The schools which reopened yesterday said they did not have any unusual dips in attendance.

Plastic moulder Lee Ah Kim, 38, had no qualms about sending his six-year-old back to St Andrew's. 'School must go on. Kids cannot be at home doing nothing for so long,' he said.

Travel consultant Liu De Seng, 40, is also glad to take his mum off babysitting his five-year-old. 'It is good that the childcare centre has reopened and our routines can go back to normal,' he said.

But parents like Carine Sim, 39, whose threeyear-old daughter has been out of her nursery class since March, is still cautious.

'I am not comfortable having so many kids around her. I am worried that they might carry the virus and end up infecting her,' she said.




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