PCR tests and vaccinations: how UAE pupils are preparing for new academic year

Children set to return to classrooms in higher numbers but pandemic still looms large for new term

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 30, 2020.  Children return to school on Sunday after months off due to the Covid-19 pandemic at the Brighton College, Abu Dhabi.
Victor Besa /The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Haneen Dajani
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The final week of the summer holidays is traditionally a busy period for parents eager to ensure their children are ready for the school year.

While that once meant making sure pupils have uniforms and supplies in place for the first day back, the Covid-19 age has put PCR testing and vaccinations at the top of the check-list for many.

Pupils aged 16 and over must be immunised to return to in-person learning, while others will require nasal swabs to show they are clear of the virus.

Hundreds of thousands of pupils across the UAE are set to begin the new school year on August 29.

The National has examined some of the important issues for parents before children go back to school.

Who needs to be vaccinated?

Children aged 16 and above, as well as all school staff, must be vaccinated to return to school after the summer, the Ministry of Education said in early August.

They are required to have had two Covid-19 vaccination jabs to enter schools in all emirates, apart from Dubai, unless they have a verified exemption certificate.

Children aged 3 to 15 do not have to be vaccinated to return to school.

Officials have urged pupils to sign up for doses as soon as possible to avoid delays in returning to classes.

If parents decide not to vaccinate their children who are 16 and over, those pupils must learn remotely.

In Dubai, authorities do not yet require pupils to be vaccinated to attend school.

Where can pupils get vaccinated in Abu Dhabi?

School staff, teachers and pupils aged 12 and above who want to get vaccinated against Covid-19 before the new term can visit two dedicated medical centres in Abu Dhabi.

The clinics are in the Green Halls at the Mina Zayed Vaccination Centre and Al Ain Convention Centre, and are open daily until October 31, from 8am until 8pm.

First, second and booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinopharm vaccines are available and free.

New teachers, pupils and school employees can also get the shot, even if they do not yet have their Emirates IDs.

Appointments are not required, although pupils under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Visitors would need to show their Emirates ID and a green or grey status on the Al Hosn app.

Do pupils need PCR tests before they return to school?

Private school pupils in Abu Dhabi who are 12 and above must take a PCR test every two weeks to return to school.

In Abu Dhabi, pupils aged 12 and over, as well as staff, will also have to undergo PCR tests within a 96-hour period of returning from school holidays, including Eid, winter, summer and spring breaks.

In Dubai, all pupils must declare their recent travel history by completing the Dubai Health Authority form online.

Pupils who have returned from travel abroad also require a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours to resume learning at school.

If they do not have a negative test result, they will be required to do distance learning for 10 days from their arrival date.

Private school staff in Dubai who are eligible but choose not to be vaccinated need to take a PCR test every week.

If they do not have a negative test result, they will be required to complete distance learning for 10 days from their arrival date.

All school staff and pupils aged 12 and above must have a negative PCR test to return, Sharjah Private Education Authority said. Staff and teachers should have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine but can be exempt if they have a medical condition.

Exemptions will need a doctor’s report and they must take a weekly PCR test.

How can parents prepare their children for return to school?

Children may feel anxious about returning to school after a two-month break, especially with the pandemic still looming large. For many pupils, this may be the first time they will have had to wear masks at school.

It is normal for children to show signs of anxiety when their routine is disrupted by the start of a new term.

Parents have to help ease the transition from holidays to classrooms by preparing children mentally for the change a week before they go back to class.

Parents can help children settle into their routine by ensuring they sleep early so their sleep pattern is in line with school days.

Dr Beno Kurien, principal at International Indian School in Baniyas, said parents should talk to their children every day before they start school.

Once classes resume, he said parents needed to have conversations with children about what was happening at school. If the child faced a problem, parents needed to inform the school, he said.

He asked parents to ensure their children got ample rest before they returned and to cut out junk food from their diets.

The school has a team of teachers who have studied psychology and will help train parents in how to help children before pupils return to school.

Pupils have access to tailored mental health support should they need it.

Updated: August 31, 2021, 4:47 AM