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Flu in Hong Kong

Hong Kong parents take children to school despite classes being cancelled amid flu fears

Some complain Education Bureau announcement a day earlier gave too little notice for them to make alternative arrangements

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 11:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 10:22pm

Many working parents had no option but to take their children to school on Thursday, despite classes having been cancelled at Hong Kong’s kindergartens and primary schoolsto curb the spread of flu.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung rejected criticism about the Education Bureau’s confusing communication after the sudden announcement on Wednesday, which brought pupils an early start to the Lunar New Year holiday.

All 1,600 kindergartens, primary schools and special needs schools in Hong Kong were ordered to close from Thursday, though the bureau asked schools to remain open to cater for children in need of care.

The government has said the early holiday was intended to stop transmission of the viral infection in the midst of a harsh winter flu season that has hit children hard.

Latest data from the Centre for Health Protection released Thursday showed between January 7 when the season began and Wednesday , there were 421 flu outbreaks at institutions in the city affecting 2,740 people mostly children. Of these outbreaks, 82.7 per cent (348) were in kindergartens and primary schools.

So far 13 children have been hit by severe flu requiring hospital admission, and two of them have died.

A total of 214 adults suffered from severe flu. Among them, 121 people died.

Education chief says Hong Kong school closures for pupils’ health, but parents still unhappy with sudden call

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said on Thursday that the government needed to improve its notification system for class suspensions as many schools were unable to obtain accurate information from education offices even after the announcement.

But Yeung said he did not think communication was chaotic after the decision was announced.

“After the government’s announcement at 10.30am, we have already issued notices to schools within a short period of time,” said Yeung. “It would take time for us to implement all details. We would see if there is any room for improvement.”

He said that the first day of the early holiday Thursday for schoolchildren saw “smooth’’overall operation of schools.

Yeung Choi-ming, principal of Yan Oi Tong Mrs Augusta Cheung Kindergarten Cum Nursery in Tai Po, said 11 pupils from K1 to K3 showed up in school on Thursday. 

“We have many working parents, and they may not be quick enough to arrange for someone else to look after their children [after the announcement],” Yeung said. 

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She said the kindergarten would provide normal services until next Wednesday. Activities such as physical exercise and story time would be offered to pupils on days not originally scheduled as holidays. 

Lui Kam-keung, principal of San Wui Commercial Society School in the Western District, said about seven or eight pupils showed up on Thursday but it was not chaotic. Students, however, would have to make their own way to school as bus services were not operating.

“Some parents may have no one at home to take care of them so we do get students coming to school when there are class suspensions, such as during storms. It’s quite normal,” Lui said.

At St Paul’s Day Nursery on Leighton Road in Causeway Bay, which provides full-day services to more than 200 pupils, parents were still dropping their children off in droves.

“The [Education Bureau’s] announcement came a bit late, in my opinion. They should have announced it much earlier so parents can make proper arrangements,” said Meredith Cheung, who was dropping her daughter off at school before rushing to work. “Luckily our school is open, or it will be quite hectic for us.”

Working mother Angela Lam agreed that classes should be cancelled, saying there was no better solution. 

Other adults decided not to take their charges to school despite the short notice. A grandmother who gave her name as Mrs Tam, said she was “very scared” about what she read in the news and did not want to take any risks of catching the flu given that it was almost the Lunar New Year.

Instead, she took her grandson grocery shopping at Wan Chai Market on Thursday morning. “We’ll just take it as an early holiday, it’s not a big deal.”

What you need to know about this year’s unusual winter flu surge in Hong Kong

At Zebedee International Preschool and Nursery in Tai Po, parent Jonathan Li was left disappointed after he tried to drop his four-year-old son off. 

“The school said it is open, so I want to see if there are any other children coming in to play with my son,” he said. But as no other pupils were expected to turn up, he decided not to leave his son in school alone. 

Diane Harfitt, the kindergarten’s vice-principal, said daily thorough cleaning would carry on to minimise the chances of disease transmission inside the school.

Jojo Chan Wai-yin, headmistress of Po Leung Kuk Tin Ka Ping Primary School, said only two pupils came in on Thursday and were “reading in the library and doing homework”.

“Pupils can come back if in need,” Chan said, as the school would remain open until next Tuesday.