Adham: Education clusters spike due to more mobilisations during the holidays

Gentle reminder: Students passing a health notice as they return to school that was ordered to shut last week after a Covid-19 case was reported. — ART CHEN/The Star

PETALING JAYA: An increase in movement during the early April school holidays, social gatherings and interstate travels contributed to the rise of Covid-19 clusters and cases in the education sector, said the Health Ministry.

Its minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said as of Wednesday, there were 53 active clusters out of almost 90 Covid-19 clusters that have cropped up since Jan 1 in the education sector.

“There are 49 educational institution clusters that are still active, with the addition of another four clusters as of Wednesday.

“Not all of the clusters that have emerged are happening in institutions under the Education Ministry.

“There are also clusters happening in tahfiz schools belonging to state governments for example, Mara Junior Science College (MRSM) and higher educational institutions, ” said Dr Adham yesterday.

“There were more obvious mobilisations or movements in early April (with) school holidays and social gatherings.

“Interstate travels also contributed to the clusters, ” he added.

He had earlier said that the need for a temporary closure of classes or premises would be based on risk assessment by the district health office, with the Education Ministry, Higher Education Ministry as well as educational institutions being involved in the decision-making.

This came as calls to close all schools nationwide grew after educational institutions recorded a total of 4,868 Covid-19 infections from Jan 1 to April 20 this year.

While the Education Ministry has yet to issue an official statement on school closure, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon told a Chinese daily that schools with at least one Covid-19 case would now be ordered to close for at least two days.

Dr Adham added that the Education Ministry had a proposal on the issue and that its minister would be making the official announcement in due time.

On another note, Dr Adham said that about 50,000 teachers with comorbidities were vaccinated in the first phase of the national immunisation programme, which ran from February to earlier this month involving frontliners.

“We will consider vaccinating all teachers in the second phase after the vaccine supply that we procured is available in the country, ” he added.

This is in line with the recent announcement by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who said about 500,000 teachers both in the public and private sector would be prioritised in phase two, which kicked off on Monday.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said there was no need for a nationwide closure of schools and that only affected premises should be temporarily shut for disinfection and contact tracing.

“School sessions can be rearranged with classes rotating and pupils taking turns to be in school for lessons.

“Schools can do a combination of in-person learning as well as online learning. There is no need to close every school, ” he said.

Dr Zainal added that the school management must be strict in monitoring the adherence of students and staff to the standard operating procedure, and that the parent-teacher association could be roped in if need be.

Malaysian Medical Association president Prof Datuk Dr M. Subramaniam concurred, saying that affected educational institutions should only be closed temporarily to curb infections and that nationwide closure was not the way to go.

“Affected schools should be closed for at least one or two weeks to deal with the clusters and cases. One or two days is not enough.

“After temporarily closing, schools should open again so that there is no loss of education.

“Students already lost a lot of learning time when schools were closed nationwide last year and online learning has proven not to be easy for students and teachers, ” he said, adding that adherence to SOP in schools should be improved.

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