Singapore’s experience is being used yet again as a cautionary tale, this time in the context of China’s reopening of schools. Zhong Nanshan, a leading epidemiologist in China, warned the nation against falling into the same trap as Singapore did.
Dr Zhong particularly warned against the stop-start reopening of schools and colleges even as the numbers of coronavirus infections have gone down within China. He and other infectious disease specialists said at a recent online panel discussion that it should be safer for children and youths to be back in school due to the smaller risk of local transmission in China, despite the growing number of coronavirus cases in other countries.
The panel discussion was organized by China’s Ministry of Education. Although it occurred on Monday (Apr 20), the media only reported details from the discussion two days later.
The epidemiologist explained that the reproduction number of the virus in China was “very low and unlikely to cause a massive outbreak.” And while it could be expected that the country would see more infections, Dr Zhong said, “I staunchly support that we should move on.”
He then warned against falling into the same situation as Singapore, “They relaxed their disease control and prevention too much and too quickly – that can easily lead to a resurgence. Now it has reintroduced tough measures after reporting more new cases. We can’t afford this back and forth.”
Singapore’s Prime Minister announced that the Government was extending the circuit breaker to curb the rising number of infections. It also announced that its midyear school holidays would be moved from June to May.
In China, schools have been reopening gradually in the last two weeks. Li Lanjuan, another epidemiologist who participated in the panel discussion, said that every school should perform thorough health examinations on pupils and staff members before reopening to ensure safety from the beginning. Dr Li had spearheaded a medical team in Wuhan until last month.
The head of the infectious diseases department at Fudan-Huashan Hospital, Zhang Wenhong, added that schools need to concentrate on avoiding secondary infections as students get back into the process of learning and social activities.
He said, “Having a [case] on campus is not something that schools can prevent – the infection could happen outside [the school] and it’s unavoidable. But if there are clusters of second- and third-generation infections on campus, then the school will have failed in its duties.”
Dr Zhang emphasized the importance of schools coordinating with local health facilities and have strategies in place should students become infected with Covid-19.