Schools extend Tet break as coronavirus fears mount

By Thanh Hang, Hoai Phuong, Duong Tam   February 1, 2020 | 12:30 am PT
Several universities in Vietnam have extended their Tet break, while parents feel concerned about the safety of elementary school kids amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Hanoi University of Science and Technology (HUST) has extended the Tet or Lunar New Year break for its students for seven extra days until February 10.

Tran Van Top, Vice Principal of the university, said the decision was taken after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus (nCoV) a global public health emergency Thursday.

The university has also sent them a handbook of disease prevention measures issued by the Ministry of Health.

Le Manh Cuong, a student, was pleased with the decision.

Cuong said his family was worried about him as he was supposed to return to classes on Monday amidst the spread of the nCoV virus.

"The school's decision shows they care about their students' health. I'm also happy to be in my hometown for another week," Cuong said.

The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed four Vietnamese have tested positive for the virus. One was a hotel receptionist in Nha Trang who had contact with two infected Chinese tourists. The other three came back from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Earlier, on January 23, the two Chinese nationals had become the first in Vietnam to test positive for nCoV infection.

Hanoi’s Thuy Loi University has also extended the Tet break to February 10.

Dr Trinh Minh Thu, the university's principal, said they wanted to take precautionary measures to protect the students and school officials. The extension of the holiday won't affect the students' progress, she added.

The Hanoi University of Mining and Geology has also extended the holiday break for another week. The school has warned students who have returned to Hanoi from their hometowns to be highly vigilant and get themselves checked and treated at a medical facility if they experience any symptom of illness.

The school heads have said that the holiday extension is temporary until there is an official decision from the government and the Ministry of Education and Training.

If the outbreak has not been controlled and risks of it spreading still exist by February 10, the school may extend the break even further on safety considerations.

Many other universities are considering further extension of the holidays and are expected to make an announcement soon. The education ministry has authorized universities and schools to suspend classes as they see fit in wake of the health crisis.

Most students have enjoyed a Tet holiday of between 14 to 21 days, starting January 23.

In Lao Cai Province, which shares a long border with China, all students from kindergartens to high schools will get to come back to school three days later than scheduled, on February 6.

Anxious parents

Parents, meanwhile, are worried about the safety of younger children as they decide whether or not to send them to school.

A parent checks the body temperature of her daughter on the way to school, January 31, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

A mother in Hanoi checks the body temperature of her daughter on the way to school, January 31, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

Le Thi Thuy Lieu, 31, was hesitant about bringing her daughter to school Friday morning although the kid was all ready, in her uniform and school bag packed.

Lieu joined a group chat created for people whose first-grader children go to the Khuong Thuong Elementary School in Dong Da District. Lieu wasn't alone in her anxiety.

But everyone in the group encouraged each other to stay calm and take the kids to school if they don't have fever or cough, because "skipping classes will make them fall behind, and there was no one to look after them at home anyway."

Lieu took her daughter to school and saw that many children had showed up, which made her even more anxious. She now wants the school to suspend classes so her child can be home and not exposed to the outside environment.

"I haven't stopped worrying about the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the last couple days," Lieu said.

The mother has equipped her child with a 3D medical mask. She has told her daughter to always put her hoodie top on and not to take off the mask.

"Still, she only wears her mask on her way to school and back, not in class, because she feels embarrassed as none of her classmates wear it," Lieu said.

The distance between the school and their home is less than a kilometer, but as soon as her daughter comes home, Lieu has her change her clothes, wash her hands with soap, cleanse her mouth with mouthwash, and her eyes with saltwater. She also bought an air filter for the home.

She and other parents keep each other posted about the virus and measures taken by neighboring schools for reference.

"My phone buzzes all the time, every parent cares about this," Lieu said.

Head teachers at the school have informed the students and parents about the prevention of the nCoV and advised them to put on a facial mask in class. Students who show signs of fever and coughing will be reported to the medical room and their parents immediately.

Since the onset of the epidemic, none of Lieu's daughter's classmates have fallen ill, but many still don't go to school.

"The parents association has decided to buy hand sanitizer for the kids, the more we can protect them the better," Lieu said, adding she will also stock more facial masks at home.

Students wear face masks in class at an elementary school in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

Students wear face masks in class at an elementary school in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

Nguyen Thi Thu, another parent in Hanoi, said her anxiety mounted after she learnt that some Vietnamese had contracted the virus.

"Some parents bluntly proposed that kids who were traveling during Tet with their family should not send them to school or keep them away from their classmates. If the families can't afford to have their kids skip class and stay at home, then they should tell other parents so that the latter could keep their kids at home to prevent risks," the 30-year-old Thu said, recounting discussions between parents at her daughter's kindergarten.

On Friday, Pham Xuan Tien, Vice President of Hanoi Department of Education and Training, warned parents against being worrying too much and keeping their kids from school, saying it would affect their academic progress.

"Only when the Ministry of Health and official agencies issue a warning should parents allow their children to skip class," Tien said.

Vietnam had 97 coronavirus suspected cases with symptoms like fever and cough as of Friday, and 32 are still isolated, pending test results.

The virus has spread from mainland China to 26 countries and territories: Hong Kong, Macao, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, the U.S., South Korea, France, Germany, Vietnam, Canada, the UAE, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, the U.K., Russia, Finland, Nepal, Sweden, and Spain.

Chinese authorities said 259 people had died as of Saturday morning out of almost 12,000 confirmed cases of the disease.

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