Students in Wuhan return to classrooms

Nearly 1.4 million students in kindergartens, primary and high schools in Wuhan, the city hit hardest by the COVID-19 epidemic in China, will start on-site schooling for the autumn semester on Tuesday with regular disease control measures and emergency response plans in place, local authorities said on Friday.

The full resumption of normal teaching in Wuhan, Hubei province, will involve 2,842 institutions, including 63 newly constructed schools, said Wang Chifu, deputy head of the Wuhan education bureau.

Health conditions of students and teachers will be closely monitored and recorded. Those from regions at medium or high-risk should present a negative nucleic acid test result taken within a week, he said.

Overseas students and teachers should not return to campus unless they receive notices from their schools, Wang added.

Large gatherings will be strictly controlled, and indoor events involving large crowds will not be held unless necessary. Meanwhile, movement in and out of campuses, student dormitories and faculty communities will also be carefully managed.

Since Wuhan is now deemed at low risk of the virus spreading, students are not required to wear masks on campus, but they should bring one with them at all times, Wang said.

Li Junlin, an official from the city's disease control and prevention center, said faculty members and students who show symptoms, such as a fever or dry coughs, must be immediately isolated and sent to designated hospitals.

If suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases are detected on campus, the affected school should activate its emergency response mechanism under the guidance of local health authorities and help disease control workers track down close contacts.

Wang, from the city's education bureau, said that all schools should have emergency response plans, stock sufficient disease control equipment, conduct anti-virus training and drills, and set up areas reserved for medical observation and isolation, among other disease control measures.

"The bureau will carry out weekly supervision on preparations for school reopening and anti-virus measures. As of recently, we have conducted on-site checks on over 700 schools and kindergartens," Wang said.

Most students in Wuhan have been taking online classes since January as schools remain shuttered to curb the spread of the virus. The city emerged from a citywide lockdown on April 8 and has reported no new domestic cases since mid-May.

Wang said schools should refrain from rushing through or force-feeding course materials in order to catch up with schedules, which might pile pressure on students. Psychological counseling should also be offered to help ease them back into normal classroom learning, he added.

College students in Wuhan began returning to campus for the autumn semester earlier this week in staggered time slots.

The Ministry of Education said on Thursday that nearly all schools nationwide are scheduled to begin the new semester from Aug 16 to Oct 10, except for the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, which has decided to delay school reopening due to a recent outbreak.