HK is resisting mass school closures despite Covid surge

Hong Kong won’t consider mass school closures even as the number of Covid-19 infections soars citywide, officials said, though they are monitoring outbreaks in specific classes so they can take action if needed.

The government has set a threshold of about 10% of students infected in a single class for deciding when targeted cancellations should be implemented, a rule of thumb established as tens of thousands of children return to school with the start of a new academic year. If several classes are affected in a single school, it may close, officials said.

“In terms of halting schools across Hong Kong, the government will not consider such a measure at this stage,” said Albert Au, an official with the Department of Health, in a press briefing Monday. “As we all know, going to school is a very important component to the students’ development and study.”

The guidance is a marked loosening of the policy around school closures in the Asian financial hub, as educational institutions previously were at the front of the line for shutdowns when new waves of Covid emerged.

Hong Kong, currently seeing about 10,000 new Covid cases a day, closed schools in January after detecting 42 infections in the community over a two week period.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee -- who was sworn into office on July 1 -- has pledged to revive the city’s global standing.

New policies include reducing hotel quarantine for international arrivals and working with mainland officials to establish a so-called “reverse quarantine” mechanism to boost travel flow into China.

The fate of the city’s children, many of whom have borne the brunt of repeated class closures, also appear to be high on his agenda.

Students are required to take daily rapid tests to attend classes. There were 3,444 infections detected among students, teachers and workers over the weekend that were reported on Monday, Au said. Most of them weren’t linked to the others, and likely were contracted in the community rather than the classroom.

Only a dozen schools had classes that were halted because of elevated Covid cases.

The daily tests help to prevent cases from spreading in the schools, according to Au, who said it would have been “disastrous” if those children who were positive hadn’t been tested.