Netizens berate Education Minister Ong Ye Kung for not shutting schools amidst increasingly severe coronavirus situation

23 March 2020 - the school term fully resumed despite the current escalating COVID-19 crisis ensnaring Singapore (on this day itself, 54 new cases were confirmed by the Ministry of Health, amongst them a PCF Sparkletots teacher). Several precautionary measures were undertaken by the Education Ministry henceforth - these included mandating that teachers and students who recently returned from overseas trips serve a 14-day leave of absence, implementing exam-style seating in classrooms alongside safe distancing protocols at canteens and general play areas, as well as ramping up cleaning routines on school premises.

The day before, Education minister Ong Ye Kung also took to Facebook to proffer three main reasons surrounding the decision to reopen schools. In his own words:

"Let me lay out MOE’s thinking on why school will open tomorrow, but with more precautionary measures. There are three key considerations.

First, science. With the virus being around for several months now, there is a body of scientific evidence showing that COVID-19 does not affect the young very much as compared to adults. Parents will be familiar with this concept, as this is the case for other diseases such as chicken pox.

Neither is there evidence to show that the young are vectors or spreaders of the virus. The reverse appears to be the case, where the young get infected by adults at home. This is the advice of Prof Dale Fisher, Group Director of Medicine at NUHS and Chair of the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

......Second, disruption. Closure of schools will disrupt many lives, especially parents who are both working, with no domestic help, and have limited childcare options. We are particularly concerned about parents who are healthcare workers and providers of essential services.

Keeping our healthcare system strong is paramount in the fight against COVID-19. Our frontline warriors will be much more assured if their children are in school, meaningfully engaged, in a safe and healthy environment.

......Third, precautions. Notwithstanding that the young are more resilient to COVID-19, there is no place for complacency. We have consulted our healthcare experts and put in place many significant additional precautionary measures to safeguard the entire system, to maintain the calm situation we enjoyed before the March holidays."

Still, many netizens remain unimpressed, as clearly evidenced from how they took turns ripping into Mr Ong left, right and centre. An online petition calling for a complete closure of schools across the country which has since garnered more than 10K signatures bears further testament to the public uproar erupting over what has fast become a scorching hot potato. Anyways, provided herein is a non-exhaustive capture of the average Singaporean's sentiment:

By Yohann Cha:

"Quoting Mr Ong: "Neither is there evidence to show that the young are vectors or spreaders of the virus."

Might you wish to double check with Prof Fisher?

According to this publication in the Pediatrics journal:

Third, children may play a major role in community-based viral transmission. Available data suggest that children may have more upper respiratory tract (including nasopharyngeal carriage),rather than lower respiratory tract involvement.There is also evidence of fecal shedding in the stool for several weeks after diagnosis, leading to concern about fecal-oral transmission of the virus, particularly for infants and children who are not toilet-trained, and for viral replication in the gastrointestinal tract.Prolonged shedding in nasal secretions and stool has substantial implications for community spread in daycare centers, schools, and in the home."

By Le Gill:

"My kids have asthma. And I'm positive lots of other kids are asthmatic too. They suffer complications just from catching the common flu. My child was warded in the ICU for almost 2 weeks because he came down with the rhinovirus (which is a common flu fyi). Contrary to what the minister seeks to suggest, not all kids are resilient! Bad decision putting children at risk and then deciding the subsequent course of action based on what happens next. Is "Safety First" merely a slogan as far as the authorities are concerned?"

By Jan Liow:

"With all due respect, I am sure the Ministry of Education has its reasons to keep schools open. However, why can’t we as parents choose to let our children remain at home? I was shocked to learn that since my kids are not being issued a stay home notice or leave of absence, they must attend school as per usual, not to mention they shall enjoy no access whatsoever to any of the e-learning materials prepared for self quarantined individuals! Also, given my children commute to and from school daily via public transport, there is no absolutely way they can maintain a safe distance of at least 1m from others especially during peak hours! Why are our rights as parents being taken away in these dire times? Is this not a democratic country? @ MOE and Mr Ong, may I know who should be held responsible in the event of a major virus outbreak inflicting students?"

By Voon Yee:

"I have seen primary school students coughing vigorously during recess breaks. I have also witnessed those who simply wiped mucus dripping from noses with their shirts!!!! I don’t think schools are really that safe!"

By Ankur Katiyar:

"Dear minister, since we subsist on democratic principles, it is only fair that the people's point of view be accorded due importance. I therefore wish to reiterate the following:

1. Let's say we do agree that children are less vulnerable to the COVID-19 strand - that being said, should they actually test positive for the virus, would they be any less infectious?

2. Without doubt school closures will inconvenience some folks. As such, might allowing a child to continue attending school vs pursuing e-learning at home be left to the individual parent's discretion?

3. More than a handful of countries are presently experiencing a surge in confirmed cases; in light of this Singapore is not entirely insusceptible to being confronted with a similar situation. Assume a worst case scenario where our healthcare system already becomes heavily burdened, what of children who begin falling sick in huge numbers?"

By Anand Thiagarajan:

"Truth be told, the science on COVID-19 and its associated virulence is evolving - children do get infected and their numbers could contribute to the overall spread in a big way. Personally speaking, it is very difficult to assert with confidence that keeping schools open is the right thing to do in terms of infection control ( See: "Coronavirus looks different in kids than in adults" by The Washington Post). In fact asymptomatic or mildly ill kids might slip under the radar, thus causing new infections to transpire. The majority of affected nations allude to this possibility, hence they have closed or are in the process of closing schools as a demonstration of prudence. It’s about time that Singapore did the same."

By Clarence Paul Lim:

"There is also an equal number of articles that highlight how the young are so much more vulnerable. Shouldn't the Ministry of Education play it safe rather than take chances?"

By Tan Kim Wee:

"It's absolutely mind boggling for a minister to possess such a myopic view and not appreciate the severity of current circumstances, even when other countries have implemented full lockdown measures including shutting down schools for sometime now. Erring on the safe side or gambling with people's lives - I thought this is a no-brainer? Should anything terrible befall our precious young ones are you willing to accept full responsibility?"

By Chin Kong Yap:

"Epidemiological risks can change with time as the prevalence of virus rises in the community. An influx of Singaporeans returning from abroad coincides with the period when school is scheduled to reopen. If the virus gets out, schools logically constitute the next major source of cluster infection. Medical science, including epidemiology is an articulation of probability at best. The decision arrived at based on these probabilities is an art that demands wisdom, circumspection and experience. In a situation that is ever so fluid, it would therefore only be right to err on the side of caution."

By Terence Kwan:

"This is what happens when you come up with half-baked strategies. Sure it's school as usual, though all CCAs have been suspended. Guess what? These days kids are seen hanging out at fast food restaurant in droves. MOE you had better do something about this URGENTLY, else we might just end up becoming the next Italy!"

Carefully harvested and edited for clarity by the Czar (Site Founder)

Dated 24 March 2020


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