There is a false statement of fact contained in a Facebook post by Singapore States Times (SST) on COVID-19 cases in schools.
On 4 May 2020, SST published a Facebook post stating that “Education Minister Ong Ye Kung is responsible for numerous infections in schools after he refused to close down the schools. The schools were only closed on April 3rd, but at least 50 students and teachers were already infected.” These statements imply that at least 50 students and teachers had become infected with COVID-19 by 3 April 2020 as a result of transmission in schools, which is false.
As of 3 April 2020, 69 students and staff in MOE schools, including the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), were reported to have been infected with COVID-19. Based on contact tracing and investigations by MOH, all the cases (except for 3 which are still unlinked) were attributed to transmission via overseas travel, within households, social settings, and a non-school workplace (for a part-time student). In short, none of the 69 infections were traced back to MOE schools, including the IHLs.
Even before the implementation of Full Home-Based Learning (HBL) as part of the broader national Circuit Breaker measures, our schools and teachers have put in tremendous effort to ensure that our students can learn in a safe environment. Precautionary measures included establishing new hygiene and cleaning routines for our students, fixed seating and assigned play areas, suspension of co-curricular activities, and placing students who are unwell, have a travel history, or who stay with family members who have a travel history, on a Leave of Absence.
As part of the national Circuit Breaker measures, schools were closed and we moved to Full HBL on 8 April 2020. With most parents telecommuting from home, the closure of schools did not become a major disruption to our lives. Although students no longer attend school physically, the restrictions in place prevented them from moving around the community freely and exposing themselves to the virus. Nevertheless, a major concern with school closure is our students from vulnerable backgrounds, who need the support of schools for lessons, meals and guidance. These students, together with students whose parents work in essential services, have therefore been allowed to come back to school for care and supervision, with the necessary safe distancing measures in place. The arrangements for these students will continue during the May school holidays.
If MOE had simply closed schools early, say from Feb 2020, we would have disrupted lives significantly, and the impact on students from vulnerable backgrounds would have been immense. Instead, we have kept schools open as long as possible, while keeping our students safe.