Hong Kong students head back to school as Covid-19 cases surge

  • After a two-week summer break, many pupils began the new academic term under strict coronavirus precautions that include daily RATs and half-day lessons
  • Education Bureau announced this week that secondary schools would need a 90 per cent third-jab rate by November to hold full-day lessons
Yanni Chow |

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Students head back to school on the first day of the new term at Fukien Secondary School Affiliated School in Yau Tong. Photo: Sam Tsang

Twelve-year-old Valerie Chiu was excited to start her first year of secondary school on Thursday. Although she is on a new campus with many new classmates, what hasn’t changed is the Covid-19 precautions she needs to take to go to school.

After a two-week summer break, students in Hong Kong returned to school on Thursday morning for half-day classes amid a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

Besides body temperature checks, daily rapid antigen tests (RAT) and of course, masks, education authorities have also adjusted the vaccination requirements for schools.

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Under the new rules, secondary schools are only allowed to hold full-day face-to-face classes if 90 per cent of their students have been vaccinated with three Covid-19 shots before November 1.

As exciting as it is to be back at school, students were even more eager to return to full-day classes after three years of bouncing back and forth between online, half-day and full-day lessons. Currently, most schools are only holding half-day lessons.

“We would learn more effectively and get to interact more with one another and our teachers,” Valerie said, adding that seeing how students respond in class would help teachers adjust their teaching methods.

Daily temperature checks must be conducted to hold class on-campus. Photo: Sam Tsang

The Form One student said she has had two doses of the vaccine, and is thinking about getting her third one soon.

“I’m not really sure if my school will meet the mark by November 1, but I hope we can have full-day classes,” she said.

Melody Ma Jing-mao, 16, a Form Five student, said her school has only reached an 85 per cent vaccination rate.

“I study science subjects and it’s important for us to do experiments. However, due to a lack of time at school, we can’t perform many of them. This has affected my understanding of a few different topics,” she said.

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However, she is grateful she can still attend extracurricular activities after school, she added.

Grace Lam, 13, a student at Diocesan Girls’ School, hopes to participate in mask-free activities soon.

“Masks are very troublesome. I hope that the Covid situation will improve so we can get rid of mask mandates,” she said.

She added that she is confident her school will meet the 90 per cent benchmark.

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Education authorities said students in primary school and kindergarten would not be allowed to hold full-day face-to-face classes for the time being, citing the low vaccination rates for Hongkongers between three and 11 years old, and the fact that they aren’t able to take care of themselves as well as older students.

But primary student Sheryl Law said she prefers half-day classes.

“It gives me more time for self-directed learning in the afternoon,” she said.

Schools will be required to report their monthly inoculation figures to the government from this month. Those that obtain an overall rate of 70 per cent and above will be recognised on the Education Bureau’s website.

International schools are not subject to the new rule.

According to the Education Bureau, only 32 per cent, or 163 of secondary schools, resumed full-day in-person teaching in the previous academic year. Another 79 applied to conduct in-person full-day teaching for specific forms only.

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