opinion

OPINION: Stop pointing to Singapore to say we should keep schools open. We are not Singapore.

PM Scott Morrison has announced that Australian schools will stay open. He’s pointing to the example of Singapore, saying Singapore has kept schools open and been one of the “more successful countries” at limiting transmission of coronavirus.

All good. Send your kids to school and stop worrying. Right?

The problem is, there’s a big difference in what’s happening in schools in Singapore and what’s happening in schools in Australia.

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Singapore has been through SARS. People have learnt from it. They know how careful they have to be.

Australians haven’t, and they’re still way too relaxed. It’s almost un-Australian to worry about hygiene.

Online, in parents’ groups, I’ve seen mums with experience of schools in Singapore trying to explain how different things are over there.

Official guidelines from the Singapore government back that up. These are some of the precautionary measures currently applied in Singapore schools:

Daily temperature checks. “If a child’s temperature is 38 degrees Celsius or higher or have flu-like symptoms (cough, runny nose, shortness of breath), the school will contact the parents to ask that he/she be taken to see a doctor,” the guidelines read.

“They should also rest at home till fully recovered.” Are any Australian schools doing daily temperature checks of all students? I know that when I’ve gone in to pick up my kids, I hear coughing coming from plenty of students.

Australian parents, generally, don’t keep their kids home for a cough or a runny nose. That attitude isn’t going to change overnight.

Intensifying cleaning routines and environmental hygiene in schools. How often are handrails, door handles, etc, in Australian schools being disinfected?

Staggered recess times. Is this happening in Australia?

Suspension of large group and communal activities such as assemblies, camps and mass celebrations. Well, one private school in Sydney has already shown that they think this kind of ruling doesn’t apply to them.

On top of that, there is a “tight regime of personal and group hygiene” in Singapore schools:

“There is constant supervision (for the younger students) and reminders for all students to wash their hands properly and regularly, [and] avoid touching their faces.”

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At my children’s schools, teachers don’t even get students to wash their hands before eating, let alone “properly and regularly”. No one supervises what goes on in the bathrooms to see if kids are using soap or even washing their hands at all. There are no reminders for kids not to touch their faces.

Even if these kinds of measures were introduced now, it would take time for kids to break habits. Do we have that kind of time?

Look, I can see why the PM doesn’t want to close schools. It would cause enormous difficulties for parents who can’t work from home. Vital industries, such as health and food production, would suffer.

Plus, if parents let their kids roam the streets or sent them to stay with their grandparents, it could make the situation worse. In Italy, when schools were closed, parents took their kids on holidays, spreading coronavirus further. But at the same time, let’s not pretend we’re just like Singapore and schools are super-hygienic places to be. Right now, they’re not.

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We also need to keep in mind that Singapore has put in place other measures to limit the spread of coronavirus. There are thermal scanners at airports to measure the temperature of everyone coming into the country. There are 140 people employed to work as contact tracers of coronavirus patients.

Close contacts of patients are obliged to go into quarantine, with criminal charges applying if they try to get out of it. The details of coronavirus patients, including where they live, work and play, are released quickly online, so other people can know if they may have been exposed.

Oh, one more thing. Singapore is, in fact, currently considering closing down schools temporarily, as a “circuit breaker”, according to national development minister Lawrence Wong. Singapore currently has 266 cases of coronavirus. Australia has around double that.

Maybe the best thing for Australia at this time is to encourage parents who can keep their kids home to keep them home. The less kids in schools, the less chance of them spreading coronavirus. Also, that way, we won’t need as many teachers to turn up, and the older ones or the ones with health issues can stay home and focus on setting up online learning.

No one should be criticising anyone who chooses to keep their kids home right now. They should be thanking them.

Read more on COVID-19

The Australian Government Department of Health advises that the only people who will be tested for COVID-19 are those with symptoms who have either returned from overseas in the past 14 days or been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days. 

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. 

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

Feature image: Getty.

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