The Education Bureau has announced that kindergartens, kindergartens-cum-child care centers, childcare centers, primary schools and special schools (excluding Schools for Social Development with secondary section only) will start the Lunar New Year holidays early in view of the flu outbreak.
The schools will start their holidays from Feb. 8, two days earlier than the original schedule, to prevent the spread of influenza, the bureau said.
The decision was made during an interdepartmental meeting that included representatives of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), the Food and Health Bureau, the Education Bureau, the Hospital Authority, and the Social Welfare Department.
The meeting was held on Wednesday and was chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who considered it necessary to take some precautions to prevent the spread of flu among kids.
On Tuesday, Lam met with two epidemic experts, the University of Hong Kong’s Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, to seek advice on flu control measures.
Announcing the arrangement for kids and pupils at a press conference on Wednesday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said the decision was based on the advice of the CHP.
Data from the CHP showed there were at least 236 influenza cases involving patients who needed intensive care as of Wednesday. Fourteen of them were children.
Of the total, 125 patients, including two children, had died.
More than 100 institutional outbreaks of influenza had been recorded over the past two weeks, with kindergartens, childcare centers, and primary schools accounting for over 40 percent of the total.
The CHP said 8.44 in every 10,000 patients admitted to public hospitals were aged five years or below, higher than other age groups. The number was 3.64 for those aged between 6 and 11 and 2.87 for those aged 65 or above.
Although data justified the government’s decision to let children enjoy holidays sooner, some schools authorities and parents claimed they were caught off guard, as they only got the information from TV news bulletins.
Lam Pik-Chu, principal of Chiu Yang Por Yen Primary School in Tin Shui wai, called the arrangement abrupt and not ideal since it forced the management to hold an emergency meeting to follow up as well as release a notice within a short time.
In response, Yeung denied the decision was made hastily, and stressed that the move took into consideration multiple factors. If the decision was delayed, there was a risk that more children could be exposed to the flu threat, the education secretary said.
The schools and the kindergartens have been asked to keep their gates open during the holiday period, so that parents who have problems in finding someone to look after their kids can still send their kids to school and have the children spend time there, Yeung said.
In 2008, the government closed schools ahead of the Easter holidays after four children died of influenza A.
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