Experts: School SOP sufficient

PETALING JAYA: The standard operating procedure (SOP) for schools when they reopen next month is comprehensive, and all stakeholders must adhere to it to prevent any spread of the virus, say health experts.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said the SOP looked “very comprehensive”.

But for it to be effective, she said it needed the cooperation from everyone.

“We need commitment from all – teachers, students, parents, staff and communities – to ensure the school environment is safe and healthy.

“If all parties are committed and fully adhere to the SOP and instructions, we should have a conducive environment for schools to reopen,” she said.

On Sunday, Education Minister Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin said face-to-face classes would resume next month under tightened SOP.

Among others, only 50% of the school’s enrolment is allowed to be present at the school at any one time, mandatory wearing of face mask, Covid-19 self-test to be conducted if a student has symptoms, and students to be seated one table apart.

Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar urged all parties to remain vigilant.

He cited the situation in the United States and Scotland where cases went up after schools reopened.

However, he also noted that reports showed that deaths among children were rare.

“It looks like children are less vulnerable to severe infection and they are using that as a logic to open up schools, but at the same time, we do not know whether there is any bearing if the variants are different. In our country, it is mainly the Delta variant and when it spreads does it have a bigger impact? We do not know.

“As we are opening schools right now, I think we are taking chances,” he said.

Dr Sazaly believes that emphasis should continue to be given on hybrid learning as that is the future.

“We should improve on online distance learning (ODL); how the content should be delivered; and how students can get the best education through ODL,” he said.

Physical education and social activities for students could still continue on the side, he added.

Dr Sazaly is not in favour of vaccinating school children as there is “no basis to suggest that vaccination will limit the number of people getting infected”.

“When you take the vaccine, it is to limit the number of people developing severe disease. So, vaccination is not going to reduce the number of infections.

“I am not against the vaccination of children but I am against mandatory vaccination,” he said, adding that parents should be given the option whether they want to vaccinate their children and the type of vaccine.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said the SOP was good and practical.

However, former National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam said the SOP for schools was confusing.

“Parents must understand the risk they are taking if they choose to send their children to school,” he said.

He said ministry officials should go to the ground and check if the SOP was doable and effective.

“The ministry should be receptive and proactive with the situation, especially since they are dealing with children,” he said.

Meanwhile, as more economic sectors reopen and people go about their daily lives once again, Dr Malina urged the public to remain cautious.

“As we know, protection against infection is not 100% with the vaccine, so public health measures through appropriate wearing of face masks, practising physical distancing and hand hygiene must be maintained, particularly when we are outdoors or meet someone who is not from the same household,” she said.

“With the threat of new variants such as Mu and Lambda, the country is going to continuously face challenges linked to possible new variants.

“Undoubtedly, this is inevitable but we can always avoid it through proper preventive measures such as adhering to the SOP vigilantly. If we adhere to the SOP, transmission can be stopped, therefore preventing further spread,” she said.

Dr Sazaly points out that it is currently still unknown if immunisation can protect against the Mu and Lambda variants.

As Malaysia prepares to transition from the Covid-19 pandemic to the endemic phase, Dr Sazaly said this basically means that everyone would eventually be infected.

He also spoke about those who remain vulnerable regardless if they are vaccinated or not.

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