School flu move bodes ill for our kids

Editorial | Mary Ma 20 Nov 2020

The Centre for Health Protection's new rule requiring schools to shut down if three students fall ill in the same class during any four-day period is hard to comprehend.

As we hit the annual common-flu season, it is now only to be expected that primary and secondary schools will be closing one after another to once again massively disrupt lives that families have been struggling hard to keep as normal as possible.

And I am not at all sure if Health Secretary Sophia Chan Siu-chee is trying to help.

While it makes sense for the CHP to be alert to new Covid cases, would it not be more reassuring for Chan's policy bureau to give updates on the vaccination program now that two leading vaccines - from Europe and the US - are reported to be 95 percent effective?

Chan should have acted to offer hope by letting us know we are near the end of the tunnel given the promising outcomes of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

For one, it's hard to imagine that school administrators like Cheung Yung-pong, honorary chairman of the Aided Primary School Heads Association, only learned from media reports about the CHP rules requiring schools to close for a week if a handful of students fall ill.

School administrators like Cheung should have been informed through proper communication between Chan and her counterpart in the Education Bureau.

It's alarming to know that such poor communication exists between the various stakeholders.

The head teacher rightly described the new standard for school closure as "super strict."

The step to shut down kindergartens due to a seasonal outbreak of the common cold was overkill was meant as a precaution against Covid, but its extension to primary and secondary schools pushes it way too far.

Children are at their golden age of learning and the consequence of depriving them of appropriate teaching will be long term and unrecoverable.

Chan - who should know how to strike the right balance - asserted to private doctors that she now has great powers to order mandatory testing for groups of people designated by her.

Although doctors in private practice are expected to follow suit, it is improper to threaten them with possible disciplinary action at the Medical Council if they do not refer patients with common flu symptoms for testing.

At this time of the year, almost everyone suffers from a cough and runny nose.

Perhaps it would have been less confusing if, instead, Chan had told Medical Association president Choi Kin that anyone going to a private clinic should first take a Covid test.

In view of the confusion over school shutdowns and mandatory tests, I am concerned that when the vaccination program is actually launched, the exercise will also be clouded in thick confusion. I hope not.

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