Early Lunar New Year break for pre-schoolers amid flu outbreaks

January 25, 2019 13:06
Health chief Sophia Chan (inset) said the city-wide suspension of classes in kindergartens and childcare centers was a preventive measure to deal with the worsening flu situation. Photo: RTHK/GovHK

The Lunar New Year comes early for pre-schoolers after the government suspended classes in all kindergartens and childcare centers in the city from Saturday, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said in a news briefing the decision was made after an interdepartmental meeting she chaired to review the latest influenza situation.

Chan said several factors were considered, including the latest flu surveillance situation, the number of kindergartens and childcare centers reporting outbreaks, the number of admissions to pediatric wards under the Hospital Authority, and their occupancy rates.

The move was a preventive measure in the face of the current flu situation, especially in kindergartens and childcare centers, where the children are usually under 6 years old, Chan said.

The suspension of classes started as early as last Saturday, when 234 kindergartens and childcare centers were forced to shut for a period of seven days, and the number rose to 384 as of Thursday, or nearly 40 percent of the total.

Despite the measure, however, the number of flu patients continued to rise, putting public hospitals under tremendous pressure.

Among the severe cases, 14 patients are aged below 18. They include a two-year-old boy confirmed to have been infected with influenza A, Dr. Wong Ka-hing, controller of the Department of Health’s Center for Health Protection, said, citing CHP data.

The toddler, who had been transferred from the pediatric intensive care unit of Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital to Queen Mary Hospital, remained in critical condition, Wong said.

Wong told media that since the seasonal flu activity is still on the rise, one cannot say that it has reached its peak. The peak period generally lasts four to six weeks.

Admission rates among children aged 5 or below rose to 10.58 people per 10,000 as of Saturday, Wong said, adding that flu outbreaks in kindergartens and childcare centers were more serious than before.

He said the activity and strength of the virus were particularly high among some age groups.

Asked by media if the CHP’s earlier decision to allow some pre-school establishments to remain open was a misjudgment, Wong said there is no single international standard when it comes to class suspension, adding that their decisions were based on scientific or public health considerations.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said kindergartens and childcare centers should remain open during the non-scheduled school holiday period for families who may have difficulty in taking care of their children.

Asked if the Education Bureau will consider creating indicators for long-term suspension of classes, Yeung said seeking experts’ opinions on the matter is necessary.

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