Local governments in all of China’s provinces and directly-administered cities, except Hubei, announced plans by April 12, despite some areas, such as Heilongjiang province in the north, reporting a surge in new imported cases of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
Zhou Na, a resident in Qingdao city of eastern China’s Shandong province, has a son in grade three, the final year, of high school. “If he goes back to school, we worry about his safety because there are new asymptomatic carriers almost every day. But if he stays at home and others go to school, we worry that his scores [on tests] then won’t be good enough to enter a good university.”
In China, one school class typically has around 50 students. To prevent close contact, most provincial governments requested that schools divide one class into two, with about 30 students in one classroom.
Beijing’s Municipal Commission of Education is the government agency that manages all schools in the capital. On April 12, its spokesman Li Yi said at a press conference: “Students in the third grade of high schools can return to school on April 17. Seniors in middle school can prepare to go back to school on May 11.”
Li said the other grades in middle school and high school, as well as primary schools, nurseries, and universities, would reopen at a later time, to be announced in the future.
Liu Xiaofeng, deputy director of Beijing’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control, explained that all students returning to school would need to pass a body temperature screening upon entering the school premises. All teachers and students would be required to wear a mask at all times. Schools would also need to check students’ temperatures again in the afternoon.
Liu added that teachers and students should bring their own tableware during lunch, and should keep at least 1 meter (3.28 feet) from each other when eating meals.
For students at boarding schools, Liu said the dorms must be disinfected every day.
Shanghai announced on April 9 that it would reopen classes for seniors in high school and middle school, as well as for universities and technical schools, on April 27.
They are preparing for the annual “gaokao,” a nationwide college entrance exam, which has been postponed due to the epidemic to July 7 and 8, according to China’s education ministry.
For middle school seniors, they are preparing for a high school entrance exam, different in each province, that will be held in July.
Other grades would be prepared to reopen on May 6.
Tianjin and Chongqing both announced on April 7 that all seniors in middle schools and high schools will go back to school on April 20. In Tianjin, students at other grade levels in middle schools and high schools, as well as universities, technical schools, and grade four to six in primary schools may return to school in early or middle of May. Grades one to three in primary school and nurseries won’t reopen until the epidemic subsides, according to the notice.
The Shapingba district police bureau in Chongqing announced that it would assign one police officer to be the contact person for each school. This police officer would take action if the school has a suspected CCP virus patient.
In Guangzhou and Heilongjiang, the most hard-hit provinces outside of Hubei, authorities also announced plans to reopen schools for high school seniors.
Authorities made plans despite a surge in imported cases in Suifenhe and Harbin, two cities in Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia. The two cities will require all arrivals from abroad to undergo 28 days of quarantine, as well as nucleic acid and antibody tests.
Harbin added that it would lock down residential units where confirmed and asymptomatic coronavirus cases are found for 14 days.
Suifenhe is currently building a 600-bed makeshift hospital dedicated to asymptomatic patients, while its 70,000 residents are now under lockdown.
Only one person per family could leave once every three days to buy necessities, and must return on the same day.
Suifenhe said on Sunday that it had banned all types of gatherings, while listed businesses must suspend operations. It also extended the April 9 closure of its border with Russia, which had been due to end next week.
U.S.-based China affairs commentator and former medical doctor Tang Jingyuan said the school reopenings could be a high risk for the virus further spreading. “Students are crowded in a tight space for the whole day. If one of them is infected, he or she will transmit the virus to others,” Tang said. “How can schools ensure that there are no asymptomatic students?”
Reuters contributed to this report.
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