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Wuhan virus: Preschools step up defences, parents largely assured

SINGAPORE — After closing over the weekend for the Chinese New Year holidays, preschools were abuzz with activity again on Tuesday (Jan 28) as operators ratcheted up precautions against the Wuhan virus.

Temperature checks were kicked up a notch at entrances to preschools and parents were told to fill in forms declaring their recent travels.

Temperature checks were kicked up a notch at entrances to preschools and parents were told to fill in forms declaring their recent travels.

SINGAPORE — After closing over the weekend for the Chinese New Year holidays, preschools were abuzz with activity again on Tuesday (Jan 28) as operators ratcheted up precautions against the Wuhan virus.

Temperature checks were kicked up a notch at entrances to preschools and parents were told to fill in forms declaring their recent travels.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development, visited a My First Skool preschool at Buangkok Crescent to observe staff members carrying out the enhanced measures, and spoke to parents, preschoolers and teachers.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr Lee said the procedures were orderly and parents were assured.

“Some of them, of course, may have additional questions as to what they need to do and what are the safeguards that are in place,” he said. 

He added that the situation was fluid and the Government might have to take extra steps as the circumstances evolve.

On Monday, the Early Childhood Development Agency, a statutory board overseen by Mr Lee’s ministry and the Ministry of Education (MOE), issued an advisory to preschools aimed at protecting the well-being of preschoolers — a vulnerable group given their age.

All preschoolers and employees returning from China from Tuesday, or who have returned from China in the last 14 days, will have to take leave of absence and stay at home.

An estimated 500 to 600 teachers — out of 25,000 teaching and programme workers across 1,900 centres — have travelled to or are returning from China, Mr Lee said, adding it was a “manageable” number. 

Meanwhile, 1,000 or so preschoolers and their families have travelled to, are coming back, or have already returned from China, Mr Lee said, citing early estimates.

He added that the authorities will have better data as parents submit their travel declarations.

Preschool operators have also been advised to remain vigilant, and check on the health of children, employees and visitors.

The 14-day leave of absence will also apply to students and employees of all MOE schools, including primary and secondary schools, special education schools, junior colleges, the Millennia Institute, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education. 

These schools will also start daily temperature-taking exercises from Wednesday when they reopen. 

The virus is believed to have originated from an illegal wildlife market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. It has sickened thousands, mostly in China, and claimed more than 100 lives.

In Singapore, there are five confirmed cases, all of whom are Chinese nationals.

Sixty-two suspected cases have tested negative and test results for 57 others are pending.

FIELD TRIPS CALLED OFF, SMALLER PLAYGROUPS

In the meantime, preschools are not taking chances, with some going beyond the Government’s advisory to cancel field trips and segregate their preschoolers into smaller groups.

At My First Skool’s 144 preschools, which house 18,000 to 19,000 children, employees take preschoolers’ temperatures thrice a day now — in the morning, at midday, and after their naps in the afternoon  — instead of twice daily. 

Staff members also monitor the children for symptoms.

Ms Thian Ai Ling, 46, general manager of My First Skool, said field trips to crowded places, such as the zoo, will be cancelled this week.

Preschoolers are also placed in smaller groups of five to eight, instead of 12 to 15, said Ms Thian.

Asked if its centres have come across parents who have decided to take their children out of preschool despite not having travelled to China, Ms Thian said the operator had not heard any such feedback from parents thus far.

“Where the parents are concerned, they tend to be quite assured by the various national measures as well as the additional measures that we at childcare centres are undertaking,” she said.

Police officer Janani Rajendran, 31, said she considered pulling her six-year-old daughter out of the Buangkok Crescent preschool temporarily, as she was unsure if other preschoolers had travelled abroad.

But she decided against it because it is uncertain how long the Wuhan crisis will drag. 

“If I’m going to keep her at home, it might last eight months, 10 months? I think the benefits (of sending her to preschool) outweigh the negatives,” she said.

Delivery worker Molly See, 60, said she was assured that Singapore is safe with the measures rolled out by the authorities. 

Her two-year-old grandson and three-year-old granddaughter attend the Buangkok Crescent preschool.

The leave of absence for preschoolers and employees who had been to China will keep the preschool safe, Madam See said in Mandarin. 

“There is nothing to worry about.”

 

 

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Wuhan Wuhan virus coronavirus pneumonia

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