Ex-deputy health minister tells when schools should reopen

Schools across the country have been closed since mid-March as the government struggles to contain the spread of Covid-19.

PETALING JAYA: Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye has urged Putrajaya to only reopen schools once the Covid-19 infection rate drops to a single digit, following the government’s announcement that major exams will be postponed or cancelled as measures to contain the spread of the virus remain in place.

Speaking to FMT, he said the government should also wait for the point at which test results can be available in under 24 hours and any new cases immediately contained.

At the moment, he said, test results take two to three days to determine.

“This means our numbers are two, three days old, with people still able to infect others.

“This is why we still have people being infected from old clusters,” he told FMT.

Lee said the measures he suggested would help control the spread of infection and boost the confidence of parents to allow their children to return to school.

Education Minister Radzi Md Jidin said yesterday that any decision to reopen schools would only be made once the situation returns to normal.

He said his ministry would announce this at least two weeks in advance.

Lee said the rate of infection would only drop if testing kits could post results in less than 24 hours, and if contact tracing could be carried out immediately with the help of community leaders.

“If a patient in Kuala Lumpur says he or she was infected by so-and-so from Jalan Tikus in Penang, the health department officer should be able to call a community leader from the area to ask for the address,” he added, advising the health ministry to set up a local community network for this purpose.

He urged the education ministry to also come up with creative ways of ensuring that students continue to receive an education as there is no way of knowing how long schools will remain closed.

Health watchdog Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said schools and colleges could be reopened based on whether they are in green or even yellow zones.

Its chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib added however that social distancing would still need to be observed and good hygiene practices put in place.

Other measures could include staggered times for recess, fewer school days and frequent hand and surface washing.

He also urged Putrajaya to examine whether the public health benefits of keeping schools closed are proportionate to the cost to children and their families.

This includes damage or disruption to education, mental health and finances, he said, adding that workers in the essential sectors would also need to stay home to look after their children.

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