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Schools begin to reopen in China amid strict measures

By Zhu Xiao, He Leijing and Zhong Qun | Xinhua | Updated: 2020-03-30 15:36
Graduating students attend a class at Hohhot No 6 Middle School in Hohhot, North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, March 30, 2020. Students in their final year of senior and junior high schools in Inner Mongolia returned to school and embraced their new spring semester on Monday. [Photo/Xinhua]

NANJING -- China is taking strict preventive measures to ensure the safety of students and no secondary outbreaks of COVID-19 among them as schools begin to reopen.

As the coronavirus epidemic waned in China, many students in the final year of senior and junior high schools returned to school on Monday.

In northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, more than 370,000 students went back to school.

Wearing his school uniform, Qingel walked through the gate of Hohhot No 6 Middle School in Hohhot, the regional capital, while a door automatically took his temperature. He then walked on a designated lane towards the classroom.

"The super-long winter holiday is finally over," said Qingel, 16. "I miss my classmates and teachers, and I lost some sleep last night."

Inner Mongolia has made necessary preparations for the reopening of schools to reduce the risk of infection, said Li Zhanfeng, deputy director of the regional education department.

Over 1,000 km away, in eastern China's Jiangsu province, students of grade 9 and 12 returned to school to prepare for entrance exams for senior high schools and colleges, respectively, after a long winter break, according to the provincial education department.

Bidding farewell to the long winter break, many students at Funing Middle School were queuing up for body temperature checks with a one-meter distance in between before entering the schools in the county of Funing.

Every classroom is well ventilated, and every class is dismissed at a different time to avoid group gatherings, said Qian Liyong, the deputy principal.

In Hohhot No 38 Middle School, shelves were placed outside the door of every classroom to provide disinfection sprayers, thermos bottles, cleaning cloths and other daily necessities.

The school has divided the final grades of high school and middle school into eleven and twelve classes, respectively, with an average number of fewer than 30 students in each class to avoid crowdedness, according to Zhao Dawei, with the school's student affairs office. Normally each class has more than 50 students.

In Funing Middle School, students and teachers are all required to wear masks and keep safe distances in class, according to Qian.

Liu Junwen is a math teacher from Hohhot No 4 Middle School. He returned to school early Monday morning to take medical supplies and carefully check his teaching courseware.

"After such a long break, I have been looking forward to the day of the school reopening," Liu said.

He said there are less than 70 days left for students in the third year of middle school to prepare for final exams, and teachers and students need to "get in sync" after a month of online teaching.

"We will try to make up for some deficiencies of online teaching through offline classes," Liu said, adding that students can continue communicating with teachers through online platforms after school.

DRILLS, SERIAL NUMBERS AND GLASS PARTITIONS

To make sure everything goes smoothly, Chinese teachers and staff carried out many drills, including taking temperatures, disinfection and mask-wearing.

Schools have also changed their student dining practices, as many parents show concern about how their children could eat safely.

The No 6 Middle School in the Jiangsu city of Wuxi conducted several drills, during which teachers played the roles of students and simulated multiple processes such as entering school, attending classes, washing hands and dinning.

The school has set up three separate entrances for students of different grades to get their temperatures tested. If a student's temperature is found abnormal, he or she will be immediately taken to the doctors in the isolation area.

"We have further improved our work plan in the drills. For instance, after teachers simulated washing hands before eating, we found it could easily lead to crowd gathering, so we proposed that students should wash hands in batches," said school principal Zhang Gang.

At Xishan Senior Middle School in Jiangsu, canteen tables have been tagged with serial numbers, and each student can find his or her table with the numbers. Wuxi Meili Middle School requires several classes of students to dine in the classrooms while others go to the cafeteria where tables are installed with separating partitions.

Rural schools have also set up strict routines.

"We have men's and women's washing rooms on each floor where there are six classes, so we arrange three classes to use the restrooms at a time during the class break," said Qian Liyong of Funing Middle School.

BEGINNING WITH CAUTION

Although the epidemic is waning in China, increasing global cases pose a considerable uncertainty.

Under this circumstance, most provinces have only partly resumed schooling with caution, and some provinces are still reluctant to arrange reopening schedules.

In Jiangsu Province, students in other grades will return to school after April 7, while college students will return after April 13. Detailed information about the reopening days will be decided by the coronavirus control departments of each city and college in the province.

In southwestern Yunnan province, the provincial education department decided to postpone the scheduled reopening days of schools except for the final grades of senior and junior schools to reduce the risk of virus spreading.

Beijing municipal authorities said the city has no plan for reopening schools and kindergartens at present. The city's education commission said it is still too early to consider any plans for reopening of schools. The commission will notify the public of the timetable and arrangement of the new semester in advance.

Wu Zunyou, a researcher with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, last week urged schools in low-risk areas to take necessary measures for epidemic prevention. He warned that detections of abnormal body temperatures and suspicious symptoms should be reported to health authorities immediately.

In addition to monitoring students' body temperatures and symptoms, it is also necessary to pay close attention to their psychological condition since most of them are facing the pressure of entrance examinations in such a difficult time.

Qi Yaling, a teacher from Jiangsu Taizhou High School, said that students should have confidence in the current situation.

"They need to make scientific learning plans to keep up with the overall teaching schedule," Qi said. "They also need to keep an optimistic attitude."

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