Consider issues of public health before reopening of schools

By Aeisya Mardhiyyah Zakry

GOMBAK, 24 August 2021: The government has been urged to provide a holistic approach from health perspective involving all levels of students ranging from kindergarten to high school before the reopening of schools.

A public health specialist, Dr. Mohammad Farhan Rusli, stated this during a webinar on Monday night (23 August) conducted by Child Bilingualism Centre of Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences (KIRKHS), held to discuss issues from the perspective of public health, following the recent government announcement regarding the reopening of schools.

The webinar was moderated by Dr. Rabiahtul Adawiyah Mohamed Salleh, the Director of the Child Bilingualism Centre, who is also Assistant Professor from the Department of English Language (DELL), KIRKHS.

Instead of rushing to reopen schools, Dr. Farhan, who also serves as the Director of Selangor Task Force Operations (STFO), stressed the importance of providing proper and precise guidelines to ensure the safety of children when schools reopen.

Taking the U.S as an example, he said, most COVID-19 cases reported involved children, and this is caused by low rate of vaccination among young people.

He explained that all strains of coronavirus have the possibility to infect children, especially the Delta variant, where it has become more dominant in Malaysia.

“Data showed that children above 12 years old are safe to receive their jabs against COVID-19, but until today children and teenagers under 18 years old are yet to be vaccinated, making them vulnerable to this deadly virus,” he said.

Aside from planning for children to get vaccinated, Dr. Farhan highlighted that other safety issues such as the status of vaccination of teachers and students, the frequency of swab tests that should be conducted, and the strategies in handling possible cases that might occur in the school community, also need to be taken into account before announcing the reopening of schools.

Giving an overview regarding the coronavirus where he explained that the virus has been around for some time, Dr. Farhan said that up until now, COVID-19 has been evolving into new variants such as Delta and Lambda.

“As children are one of the most vulnerable categories, their health and safety need to be made a priority before new regulations are enacted.”

He emphasised, “Nothing could replace face-to-face teaching, but face-to-face teaching needs to be done in a safe manner. Prior to us engaging in a safe manner, that strategies need to be put in place.”

In addition, he said, the policies drafted under the National Recovery Plan (NRP) should be guided based on data and science, not by the absolute number.

The number of population and the rate of infection are some of the parameters that should also be considered by policymakers before implementing new policies. For instance, despite having the highest number of cases for almost every day, Selangor still possess a low positivity rate of COVID-19 compared to other states such as Labuan.

Dr. Farhan also stressed that the best time to reopen schools is when the government has established policies that could protect and reduce the rate of infection among children in schools. “Educators need to be provided with long term plans and guidelines to avoid poor handling of possible situations.”

Furthermore, in planning and drafting the policies, stakeholders such as the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), should also be included in the discussion to gain a better view and understanding of the current situation, Dr. Farhan said.

In response to a question from the audience about making the vaccine mandatory for all citizens, Dr. Farhan believed the government needs to ensure that they have established a law that allows the citizens to be penalised for refusing vaccination.

The webinar that was attended by 48 participants which lasted for about one hour and was conducted via Zoom.

The recorded version of the webinar could be viewed on Dr. Ruby Salleh YouTube channel***

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