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Covid-19 prevention rules do more harm than good: HCMC schools

By Manh Tung   March 17, 2022 | 06:29 am PT
Three months after reopening, many HCMC schools say rules to curb the spread of Covid-19 are no longer working.

Early this week, Nhu, 44, a Thu Duc City resident, was asked by the school to pick up her tenth grader daughter as she had been identified as a Covid-19 close contact.

It was the second time within a month that Nhu's daughter faced the problem.

"She's totally fine and does not have any symptom, yet she has to stay home. The current rules for Covid-19 close contacts do not make sense and many children have had to repeat the routine of having to stay at home after attending schools for several days," Nhu said.

As regulated by the Ministry of Health, Covid-19 patients have to be isolated for seven days while close contacts who are fully vaccinated with two doses are isolated for five.

Students attend a class at Thanh Da High School in Binh Thanh District, March 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

Students attend a class at Thanh Da High School in Binh Thanh District, HCMC, March 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

Le Huu Han, principal of Thanh Da High School in Binh Thanh District, said the rule to identify Covid-19 close contact in schools must be reviewed and adjusted.

The Health Ministry fixed the rule to identify Covid-19 close contact last December, saying unmasked people making contact within two meters of an infected person are to be considered close contacts, while masked people should have been within the range for at least 15 minutes to qualify as a close contact.

If this rule is applied in schools, the number of close contacts will be "huge" every time a Covid-19 patient is detected, given the typical high density of people, said Han.

With too many students classified as close contacts, as has happened now, both online and direct classes have to be organized at the same time, creating a lot of difficulties for both the school and teachers.

Such frequent changes also affect the quality of learning, he said.

"If a close contact does not show any Covid-19 symptom and is in stable condition, he or should be allowed to attend school in person," he proposed.

Huynh Thanh Phu, principal of Nguyen Du High School in District 10, concurred.

He said many business facilities have allowed Covid-19 close contacts to go to work and schools should do the same, especially for students of 7th to 12th grades as they have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

This will, in one way, ease the pressure on some students and in another, prevent others from cheating, he added.

Phu said if they are deemed close contacts, students have to stay at home and this would mean that they can take tests online. On realizing that it is easier to take tests online at home than in classes, many have lied their way to becoming close contacts, he said.

HCMC recorded more than 44,000 infections in schools of all levels during Feb. 7-Mar. 3, including 3,600 teachers and staff, according to data from the education department.

Since then until recently, schools have reported around 200 more cases each day.

Several schools have also complained about the Health Ministry’s protocol requiring people to wear masks, disinfect their hands frequently, keep a safe distance from each other, which is specifically set at one meter for classrooms, avoid crowds and make health declarations.

They say only wearing masks and disinfection should be required in the current context.

First graders at An Hoi Elementary School in Go Vap District clean their hands, March 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

First graders at An Hoi Elementary School in Go Vap District, HCMC, clean their hands, March 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

Duong Cong Ly, principal of Le Van Huu Secondary School in Nha Be District, said: "Teachers have kept reminding students not to gather and to keep the required distance from each other but it will not always work. Now that they are back in school, it is impossible for them not to interact (closely) with each other."

It is even more difficult for younger students to keep the distancing rule, especially when teachers have to physically take care of the kids, said Ho Thu Thao, principal of the May 19 Kindergarten in District 1.

Truong Huu Khanh, an epidemiologist and a member of the National Board for Vaccine Evaluation, agreed that the ministry's protocol should now be changed for schools because only wearing masks and disinfecting hands are effective and feasible measures in the current situation.

He also said that it is unnecessary for students to perform daily health declarations except in cases when they have suspected Covid-19 symptoms or when their family members are infected.

Students from kindergartens to 6th grades returned to class in mid-February while those from 7th to 11th grades returned to school in January after 12th graders resumed direct classes last year.

Preschool students have returned to class in February on an optional basis.

At a meeting last week, Nguyen Van Nen, secretary of the city's Party Committee, agreed with the schools and parents. He said it was no longer necessary to request social distancing and avoidance of mass gatherings.

"Given the current situation, wearing a mask and disinfecting hands are the only feasible options," he said.

 
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