Thu, Jun 25, 2009
The Straits Times
Back to school next week

By Jessica Jaganathan

SCHOOLS will reopen as scheduled next week, unless there is a big change in the way the H1N1 virus is transmitted here.

Public events like the Asian Youth Games, the National Day celebrations next month and the Formula One race in September will also continue as planned, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

He acknowledged that reopening the schools at the end of the four-week mid-year break will raise the risk of local transmission from infected students fresh from vacations overseas.

He felt that life must go on as normally as possible, but said that his ministry would be prepared to impose targeted control measures as and when the situation changes.

For example, a school would be closed if a significant number of its students fell ill. But it would not be necessary to close all schools just because one school was affected.

The question of whether the June holidays might be extended has been on the minds of many parents and students after many schools said last week they were preparing to carry out home-based learning measures.

Several parents prefer school to reopen next week as scheduled, because H1N1 is not as virulent as originally feared.

But others have expressed concern that the virus could spread widely if students back from holidays in affected countries returned to school.

Last week, two students who returned from a wedding in Melbourne went back to school for remedial classes and holiday activities without knowing they had been infected.

They were diagnosed only three days later.

Ending the speculation yesterday, Mr Khaw said that only those who returned recently from flu-affected countries will need to stay home from school.

He said they will be told to stay home for seven days after returning to Singapore.

The Ministry of Education will announce the measures it will take at a press conference today.

Mr Khaw said the decision to reopen schools on time was taken because locally transmitted cases are expected to rise over the next few weeks.

When this happens, he said, 'to close all schools just because of one school where there is a community spread becomes less useful'.

But a close watch will be kept on the situation in schools, and the actions taken will depend on individual cases.

'These are the calculations that we have to make each time we have an incident,' he said.

For example, it would be worth closing a school with a significant cluster of infections that is spreading rapidly, in order to effectively stop H1N1 spreading in that school.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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