GUIYANG/URUMQI, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Over 1.5 million students in their final year of senior and junior high schools in China's Guizhou Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region returned to school Monday, as the coronavirus spread has been basically curbed.
Over 2,400 high schools in southwest China's Guizhou reopened, involving more than 990,000 students, the provincial education department said.
Meanwhile, some 510,000 students in Xinjiang also embraced the first day of offline schooling of the new semester, after a prolonged Lunar New Year holiday and weeks of stay-at-home online classes due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Both Guizhou and Xinjiang have seen no new confirmed cases of novel coronavirus disease for nearly a month. As of Monday, over a dozen of provinces and municipalities across China have been clear of the novel coronavirus infections after their last COVID-19 patients had been discharged.
On March 9, northwest China's Qinghai Province saw the country's first batch of 144 senior high schools and secondary vocational schools reopen.
The first day of school, as special as it already was, was also a social practice class for the students.
Customized school buses, wearing masks, temperature checks, designated routes to classrooms -- the ritualistic preparations for class were educational enough for the students to learn how important it is to avoid the gathering of crowds and observe respiratory etiquette in public.
"It takes more time for me to get to my desk. But I feel safer and less anxious," said Mao Yongli, a student at No.6 Senior High School of Guiyang, the provincial capital.
He took a "chartered bus" to school in the morning. The buses were specially designed to pick up and drop off students based on their needs, in order to minimize their contact with areas outside of school and home.
Schools in Xinjiang and Guizhou handed out free masks for students to wear. Meals were also served individually.
Each class is limited to 30 students, seating is staggered and temperatures are taken three times a day. All the classrooms, canteens and dormitories are disinfected regularly, while closed-off campus management has been adopted to reduce imported infection risks, according to Tian Yun, head of the educational administration office of Urumqi No.1 Senior High School.
Lessons about epidemic prevention and emergency drills were among the school activities on the first day.
Zhou Jin, head of the education bureau of Guiyang, said more detailed and tailored plans will be made to ensure safe offline schooling for more students.
Authorities said last week that the peak of the current COVID-19 outbreak in China was over as new cases keep declining and the overall epidemic situation remained at a low level across the country. Life and production are picking up pace in returning to normal.
As the epidemic's risks dim in other parts of China, more schools will resume classes. All students from primary schools all the way up to vocational colleges in Xinjiang are expected to return to school by the end of March. Provinces such as Yunnan have set dates for school reopening.
"The reopening of schools in low-risk regions demonstrates China's progress in epidemic control, which improves the public's confidence in defeating the outbreak, and imposes challenges for local governance," said Mei Zhigang, a sociology professor at Central China Normal University.
Local governments should continue to take strong measures to prevent infections on campus while assisting more schools to reopen in an orderly manner, Mei said.