Parents raise concerns after four students and school employee test positive
Evidence suggests all five cases were infected during circuit breaker, and have since tested negative: MOE
After four students and a non-teaching staff member from five different schools tested positive for the coronavirus, at least one mother has decided to keep her only child at home.
The single mother who wanted to be known only as Madam Loula said her priority is the safety of her 10-year-old.
"I've told the teachers that I don't mind my son repeating a year in school because his health is the most important thing," she told The New Paper.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said in a statement yesterday the five cases had mild symptoms.
They do not constitute a cluster as they are from five different schools - Anglican High School, CHIJ Katong Convent, CHIJ St Theresa's Convent, Geylang Methodist Secondary School and Hwa Chong Institution.
The cases were discovered during surveillance testing that began last Tuesday for all students above the age of 12 and school staff who are diagnosed with acute respiratory infection.
"While positive, the tests for all five cases revealed low viral loads," said MOE. A repeat test with new samples showed all five cases were negative.
Evidence suggests they were likely infected during the circuit breaker period, and not after schools reopened, MOE added.
Schools reopened last Tuesday after about two months of closure during the circuit breaker period.
The student from Hwa Chong was last in school on April 7, before the start of full home-based learning.
One of the five had symptoms as early as May 31, another had the onset of symptoms last Tuesday and the other three the next day.
All five were screened when entering their schools and did not have a fever or visible flu-like symptoms, MOE said.
All 29 staff members and 100 students who were in contact with the confirmed cases in schools have been issued with a 14-day leave of absence by MOE or home quarantine order by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
The school premises have also been disinfected.
At a virtual media session yesterday, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said: "I think this is a good reminder for all schools not to be complacent... and continue to be on the alert, and make sure that safe measures are properly implemented."
He added: "We have always said we will step up testing and we will have more rigorous contact tracing... But as we do so, we will discover more cases.
"It is important that we detect these cases early, identify the close contacts, trace and quarantine them."
Arrangements for all schools, including the five affected, remain unchanged.
Mr Ong said MOE would consider closing a school if a cluster formed in that environment.
"That has not happened yet and we will do our best to prevent it from happening.
"One of the ways to prevent it is to step up our testing regime so we can detect (cases) early, so that we don't have the chance of developing a cluster and having transmission within the school," he said.
Some parents who spoke to TNP questioned whether it had been prudent for schools to reopen during the first phase after the circuit breaker ended.
Madam Loula, who is in her 40s, said she stopped sending her son to school two weeks before the circuit breaker began on April 7 and used a courier service to collect homework from the school.
She let him go back to school last week when it reopened but now wants to play it safe by keeping him at home.
Another mother, who wanted to be known only as Madam Jane, said she felt as if she was being "forced" to send her 12-year-old child to school.
"Parents need to be given a choice," she said.
"Why are we gambling with our children?"
A woman, who has a daughter in CHIJ Katong Convent, said the school sent out a letter to reassure parents that those who were in close contact with the confirmed case have been isolated. The housewife in her 40s, wanting to be known only as Madam Ang, said she was worried but would continue to send her three children to school.
"Personally, I feel that MOE could have given parents a choice on whether their children have to go back to school," she said.
"But I also understand the difficulties if the school has to pander to multiple arrangements."
Dr Jade Kua, a senior consultant at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, who has six children, said the reopening of schools in phase one was a "calculated risk".
"As a parent, I am glad the kids are slowly easing back into school to interact with their teachers and friends with heightened safety measures," she said.
"I am also mindful, of course, that whatever we do, there is a real possibility that community spread will resume, but this is a calculated risk we're taking together. Let's wait and see."
MOH's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said yesterday the five cases were unlikely to be infectious.
"We noted that for all of these individuals, their original tests showed evidence in fact of a very low viral load," he added.
Still, Prof Mak urged the community to remain watchful.
"It is important for all of us not to be complacent, or to believe that just because in previous weeks we had lower incidents of community cases, that all is well and there is no possibility of spread," he said.
"Spread can still occur if we lose our vigilance, and it is important for all of us to still be disciplined in maintaining our safe distancing measures."
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