Hanoi to heed health ministry on face masks provision for students

By Minh Minh   February 14, 2020 | 02:16 am PT
Hanoi to heed health ministry on face masks provision for students
Students wear masks during their classes in Hanoi on January 31, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
With a hefty daily estimate of $301,000, Hanoi authorities say they will follow the health ministry’s recommendation on face masks provision for school students.

If they were to provide each student with a face mask every day, Hanoi would have to spend VND7 billion ($301,000) on 2.2 million masks a day, municipal Vice Chairman Ngo Van Quy said at a meeting Wednesday.

The city was discussing measures to be taken if all students returned to schools Monday after an extended break granted in the wake of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) epidemic.

On February 7, more than two million Hanoi students had got an extra week off until February 16 as concerns mounted over the epidemic that causes the deadly Covid-19 disease. The decision to grant the second week-long extension of the Lunar New Year break (the first was Feb 3-9) was taken a day after Ho Chi Minh City made a similar move.

Hanoi authorities said at the meeting that they would wait for guidance from the Ministry of Health to see if students need to wear a face mask at schools or not.

A day later, the ministry released a statement saying students do not need to wear face masks when going to schools, and that in necessary cases, the school will decide if its students need to wear them.

The ministry has advised that as long as the epidemic rages, no extracurricular activities are organized that will gather a large number of students and teachers in one place.

In case students have symptoms of fever or cough, parents should keep their children at home, the ministry said.

Also at the Wednesday meeting, representatives of the Hanoi market management department said it had seized around 740,000 masks that had been put on the market against regulations, either smuggled into Vietnam or those without clear origins.

The department said if related agencies could do the work of checking the quality of those masks, the city could use them for schools, given the current scarcity of this product on the market.

Ever since Vietnam confirmed its first cases of the novel coronavirus infection last month, public concern and consumption of sanitizing items have mounted.

Authorities have recommended that people should wear face masks in crowded places and when coming into direct contact with others; and clean their hands frequently with either soap or alcohol gel. This has seen masks and hand sanitizers fly off the shelves, creating a scarcity for these items.

With demand soaring, stores and pharmacies began to sell these items at much higher prices than normal before running out of supply. The normal market price for a basic box of 50 face masks is around VND30,000.

Feb 17 reopening not a given

Though the previous decision was that students will stay home until February 16, Hanoi Vice Chairman Quy told the meeting that depending on the real situation, the city will make a further decision on when students can get back to school.

Hanoi Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung assigned the municipal heath department to inspect quality of the seized masks and choose safe ones to give schools if needed.

As of Friday afternoon, Ho Chi Minh City has not made plans on reopening schools either. But Da Nang in central Vietnam and 22 provinces across the country have announced plans to send their students back to school from Monday.

Vietnam declared the novel coronavirus outbreak an epidemic on February 1.

So far, the country has confirmed 16 infections, seven of whom have been discharged from hospitals.

The global death toll from the epidemic had reached 1,491 people, three outside mainland China.

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