Wednesday, August 12, 2009

H1N1: Govt Not Closing All Schools Yet

IPOH, Aug 12 (Bernama) -- Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong Wednesday reiterated that the government would not close all schools despite the spread of the Influenza A(H1N1).

He said the ministry would get the advice of the Health Ministry before taking any action.

Dr Wee reiterated the government's stand on the matter amid calls from concerned parents for the closure of schools following the rise in the number of A(H1N1) cases.

"We cannot simply close all schools. We need to refer to the Health Department to assess the health of affected students," he told reporters after a visit to Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (C) Yuk Choy here.

He said the ministry and the Health Ministry would work together to monitor the state of health among students and take all the preventive measures.

Among measures were quarantining students suspected to have contracted the illness or not allowing them to return to school until they had sought hospital treatment, he said.

The Health Ministry was also expected to announce new guidelines regarding the closure of schools due to the H1N1 pandemic, he said.

He reminded parents not to be unduly worried as preventive and control measures were being taken at all schools in a bid to contain the pandemic.

In other development, Dr Wee called on principals and headmasters to take the diplomatic approach when engaging students with disciplinary problems.

He said they can engage the help of the Parent-Teacher Association and the School Board of Governors to tackle the problem.

He was commenting on a news report that a principal of a school here had pointed a sports gun as a "scare tactic" on the student who was found to have misbehaved in school.

The case had been solved following a meeting between the school and the student's family, he said.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the closure of schools and learning institutions was not necessary and should only be taken as a last resort.

This was among the recommendations in a new guideline issued by the ministry today in line with the mitigation phase of the pandemic.

"The closure of schools and universities can only be made when students' attendance falls to an extremely low level and when teaching and learning cannot be carried out properly.

"Principals can close schools upon the advice of district health officers and agreed by state education director," he told reporters in Putrajaya.

Private institutions could decide on their own whether they was a need to close their institutions in the event of Influenza A(H1N1) transmissions, he said.

He said that schools would also be equipped with thermometer to scan students' body temperatures on daily basis and that they would be referred to clinics should they showed A(H1N1) symptoms.

"Parents should also ensure that children with flu-like symptoms are sent to hospitals," he said.

He also warned of stern action against those who increased the prices of face masks and sanitizers.

"This is a matter of national security and a national obligation... any move to raise the price is uncalled for," he said, adding that he would leave it to the Domestic Trade, Cooperative and Consumerism Ministry to act on unscrupulous suppliers.

He also said that private clinics and hospitals were now allowed to have their own stockpiles of A(H1N1) antiviral drugs and to treat A(H1N1) patients.

"In line with this, A(H1N1) treatments are no longer confined to designated hospitals. Any hospital which has isolation wards is allowed to treat A(H1N1) patients," he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters after attending an event in Subang Jaya, Dr Wee said schools were facing difficulties in obtaining Influenza A(H1N1) prevention items, such as thermometer, due to a shortage in the supply.

"The shortage resulted in the inability of state education departments to distribute the relevant equipment to schools," he told reporters after inspecting the construction work of SJK(C) Yak Chee's new building.

He said the pandemic had caused a rise in number of absentees among students, forcing certain schools to close down temporary. -- BERNAMA

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