Students in their senior year at Ningbo LHL High School in East China's Zhejiang Province eat in the canteen on April 13. (Photo: VCG)
The revelation of student and teacher infections of the COVID-19 in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, has raised public concerns as the entire country is reopening schools, but top Chinese medical experts and education sector insiders said that the in-place COVID-19 epidemic control and prevention mechanism will ensure that sporadic domestic cases won't lead to another large-scale outbreak.
The Shenzhen Health Commission revealed on Wednesday that the city has so far reported 21 students and six teachers who contracted the coronavirus since the outbreak. Among the students, 10 were elementary school students, seven were middle-school students, and four were college students.
The news made a splash among netizens as nearly 35 million students in China have recently returned to school amid worries about whether the decision came too soon.
Beijing's Chaoyang district was categorized as a high-risk area after an imported case from the US caused infections of another three family members. But the district's resumption of classes will not be affected, a city education official said during a Thursday press conference.
Chinese top respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan said that although there is a risk of sporadic cases and threat of secondary infections from imported cases, China should start the difficult task of reopening its schools by implementing a strict epidemic prevention and control mechanism.
Some individual cases or secondary infections could emerge in the process, but a strong and solid society-wide epidemic prevention and control mechanism will prevent large-scale outbreaks from happening in the school, city or province where such cases were detected, Zhong said at a seminar on epidemic control in schools.
Epidemiologist Li Lanjuan, another iconic figure in the national fight against COVID-19, said that epidemiological checkups and thorough testing of students, teachers and staff members, including canteen workers and janitors, before the resumption of classes could minimize the risks.
Zhang Wenhong, a renowned Shanghai medical expert, noted that China will face long-term pressure from any imported case influx amid the global pandemic.
More than 35 million students had returned to school as of April 17, according to the Ministry of Education. But the move was largely limited to students in graduating classes.
Several provinces and cities, such as Guangdong and East China's Zhejiang Province, have ordered students and teachers returning from outside the regions to undergo COVID-19 tests before resuming classes.
Xiong Bingqi, a deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, said that the public should not push too hard on schools or blame schools and education departments if any sporadic cases were detected on campus.
"People should have reasonable expectations for schools' prevention work while schools should have a clear idea of how to carry forward COVID-19 control and teaching work simultaneously," Xiong said.
Epidemic control is the new normal as schools cannot remain closed until there is not a single case and the pandemic totally subsides.
Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said that schools should strengthen education of their students and make detailed and specific plans, such as allocating certain areas for each class to prevent cross-infection. Activities like morning exercises and sports meetings should be suspended.
"Schools and parents should coordinate, and parents should make sure that their children don't go to high-risk areas and pose danger to their schoolmates," Chu said.
School schedules are flexible if there is a change in the infection situation.
Northeast China's Heilongjiang and Liaoning provinces, as well as Southwest China's Sichuan Province - which have seen increases in COVID-19 cases - have announced that they will postpone school reopening dates further.
The Beijing Municipal Education Commission has ordered that classes or even entire schools be immediately suspended if any suspected or confirmed cases appear on campus, The Beijing News reported on April 13.