About 52,000 students will take the Diploma of Secondary Education examinations from Friday. Photo: RTHK

The Macau government says it will allow schools to resume classes next month after the gaming city has not recorded any new Covid-19 infections since April 9.

With a population of 630,000, Macau had recorded 45 cases of coronavirus infections as of Sunday; 20 of them have been discharged from hospitals while the remaining 25 are in stable condition. 

The city’s 13,248 senior-secondary-school students can go back to class on May 4, while its 14,341 junior-high-school students can do so on May 11. The Education Bureau will decide when to resume classes for students of primary schools, kindergartens and special education schools.

However, the possibility of canceling all classes for kindergartens and special education schools before the summer holidays cannot be ruled out, depending on the epidemic situation, the government said. Interviews for kindergarten admission will be allowed to kick off from June 7. 

Schools are recommended to use various methods, instead of only final examinations, to evaluate their students’ progress. Grade repetition should be avoided. 

About 3,000 students who live across the border in Zhuhai and study in Macau will be exempted from a 14-day mandatory quarantine. 

The Hong Kong government can only consider letting schools reopen on May 7, a full 28 days after the last confirmed local Covid-19 case, said David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong.

It should extend all social-distancing measures, because it still needs more time to confirm whether the outbreak has been contained in the city, he said.

However, a local infection reported on Sunday might have disrupted that timetable. 

Hong Kong reported two new cases, which involved a 35-year-old man and a 47-year-old woman, bringing the total number of cases to 1,025. The woman’s case was categorized as local infection as the patient, a member of the Virgin Atlantic ground staff, did not have a travel history. It was also the first local coronavirus infection in 10 days, and 69 of the woman’s colleagues are being tested as a precaution.

The woman might have come into “indirect contact” with infected persons at the airport as her daily work is to direct passengers coming in from the United Kingdom through baggage claim and immigration, said Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection. 

Chuang said the Hong Kong government was considering whether to extend public-gathering restrictions and immigration control.

On Monday, the Department of Health said it hadn’t recorded a single new Covid-19 case for the first time in more than six weeks.

The government should consider a phased approach for all students to return to schools gradually when the Covid-19 situation eases, rather than having only secondary-school students resume classes first, said Teddy Tang Chun-keung, the chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools. 

During the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003, the practice was for secondary schools to resume classes first, before younger children went back, Tang said. However, as online learning is popular nowadays, schools can be reopen with a mix of online and physical classes, he said. 

Tang said educators are worried about the negative impact the prolonged school closures are having on all students.

Besides, school closures add workloads for parents and domestic workers, who have to take care of the children staying home. According to a survey by the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB), more than half of the 1,127 surveyed domestic workers were given more chores in March and February, including cleaning, cooking, taking care of children and buying necessities.

This coming Friday, 52,000 students will go ahead with the Diploma of Secondary Education examinations. Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung suggested that civil servants try to avoid going to the office at around 7am or 8am in the coming few weeks, leaving more space for the DSE students on public transport.

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