Hong Kong schools, kindergartens closed until at least March 2 as coronavirus fears grow, three universities take similar action
- Education chiefs extend suspension of lessons for at least two more weeks in response to contagion threat, source says
- Baptist, Hong Kong and Polytechnic universities tell students that classes will not be held on campus until early March
The suspension of schools and kindergartens in Hong Kong will be extended for at least two more weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Post has learned.
A government source revealed secondary and primary schools, as well as preschools, would not return from the prolonged break until March 2 at the earliest, as three Hong Kong universities confirmed similar measures.
Baptist University, Polytechnic University and the University of Hong Kong (HKU) wrote to students and staff informing the suspension of classes on campus would now also run until March 2.
Last week, the Hong Kong government said kindergartens and primary and secondary schools would have their breaks extended until February 17, but calls for a further suspension of classes have grown over the past few days.
Apart from extending the school break, top officials were discussing other measures to contain the spread of the virus, including closing more border checkpoints, according to a second source who was familiar with the government's position.
Despite mounting calls for the shutdown of all border crossings, the government decided to close six of them from Thursday, which together handled just 7.6 per cent of the total passenger flow in 2018.
The second source also said the government was likely to extend work-from-home arrangements for civil servants for another week.
The government announced on Tuesday that public-sector workers – other than those providing emergency and essential services – would not need to go into the office or other workplaces until February 2.
Baptist University had already extended the Lunar New Year holiday for two weeks, but in an email said the spread of the virus had worsened, and it had taken the decision out of concern for the health and well-being of students and staff.
“All students should not come back to the campus until March 2, when on-campus classes are supposed to resume,” Roland Chin Tai-hong, the university president, said.
“For residents in halls … the university will further advise you on the appropriate time to come back when all precautionary arrangements are fully in place while allowing you sufficient time for self-quarantine.”
In the meantime, Chin said, e-learning would be put in place during the suspension of lessons.
The university also urged students and staff to avoid travelling to the mainland, as any member of the university who had been north of the border would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to campus.
HKU vice-president Ian Holliday said the school had decided it needed more time before teaching on campus could resume.
“Having continuously received advice from medical experts, we now come to the view that we will need more time before allowing all campus teaching to resume,” he wrote.
Holliday added that online teaching would take place between February 3 and 17, while the two weeks after that would be in recess.
PolyU president Teng Jin-guang said in an email to students on Friday that all face-to-face teaching would be further suspended until March 2, given the latest epidemic developments, with online teaching taking place between February 10 and March 1.
On Monday, City University said classes on campus would be suspended until further notice, but online teaching would begin from February 7.
In Macau, the government announced on Thursday the suspension of classes for kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions until further notice, with a specific date to be announced one week before lessons resume. It had previously extended the holiday until February 10.
Education sector lawmaker and vice-president of the pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union Ip Kin-yuen wrote to Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung on Thursday, suggesting the break be extended until there was no further risk of a possible community outbreak in the city.
The pro-establishment Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers said the government should have a clear plan on the criteria and preparations if a further suspension is required.
Chu Wai-lam, principal of Fung Kai No 1 Primary School in Sheung Shui, a school near the border with the mainland, about half of whose 1,100 pupils attend from across the border, said the government should consider suspending lessons for at least one more week, until February 24.
“As the incubation period of the [virus] is 14 days, and as many students originally planned to return to Hong Kong after the Lunar New Year holiday before February 4, if there is a longer period of time to observe, it’d set our minds at ease,” he said.
The Education Bureau said Yeung and Undersecretary for Education Choi Yuk-lin met primary and secondary school principals on Thursday, and understood their concerns on class suspension arrangements. The bureau would keep close contact with the sector and make further announcements when suitable, it said.