Coronavirus: Schools to close if just two cases are reported

The Ministry of Education has outlined contingency plans for schools to ensure the safety of staff and pupils

Schools in the UAE will close and transfer to distance learning temporarily if just two or more cases are detected among pupils or staff.

Only days before pupils return to the classroom on Sunday for the first time in almost six months, the authority has issued extensive guidelines outlining its contingency plans if infection rates rise.

The series of protocols was released by the ministry on Wednesday.

They include a plan to operate at a reduced capacity or even close temporarily if Covid-19 cases surge, the Ministry of Education said.

Parents are concerned their children are falling behind. They need human-to-human contact

Using a calculation based on the number of new cases in the community to determine the threat to schools, the guidelines set out four levels of risk: low, moderate, high and extreme levels.

In the event of an 'extreme risk' to safety, which is is reached when there are at least 36 cases per 100,000 population in seven days, in-class lessons will be halted, with a return to full-time distance learning.

Thirty-six cases per 100,000 people would equate to roughly 3,600 infections in the UAE, which has a population close to 10 million.

A section also sets out how to deal with confirmed infections among pupils or staff.

If just one case is detected, the rooms used by anyone diagnosed with the virus are to be temporarily closed and sterilised.

All contacts must also quarantine.

But if any additional cases are discovered, anywhere on site, the school will close and all pupils will transfer to distance learning for a period.

"In case more than one student or faculty member is infected at any stage of risk:

"The educational establishment will move to the higher level of risk, and study will be suspended and totally transferred to distance learning for not less than 14 days."

The Ministry of Education has overall responsibility for all schools across the Emirates.

The risk levels are defined as:

Low risk is up to 5 cases per 100,000 population in seven days. In this event, schools can operate as normal – with social distancing and the wearing of face masks.

• A moderate risk, defined as 6 to 20 cases per 100,000 population in seven days, would require to schools to function at half their usual capacity and provide distance learning and homeschooling options to parents.

• At high risk – when there are between 21 and 35 cases per 100,000 people – schools must scale back capacity to 15 per cent and allow only pupils whose parents are frontline workers or have no childcare to attend classes in person.

The comprehensive procedures highlight potential infection hot spots on school premises such as classrooms and common areas, and the possibility of transmission in crowded places such as canteens and entrance and exit points.

School leaders are asked to be aware of the risk of infection for workers in shared rooms for “long periods of time” and to take account of pupils and staff at particular risk, such as those with chronic illnesses and teachers who are pregnant.

Schools are asked to consider the “transmission of the virus through food suppliers” due to the use of external sources and other contractors, which leads to a higher risk of infection.

The framework also reiterates that it is mandatory for all members of the school population aged 12 and over to take a Covid-19 test prior to the start of the academic year.

“[There must be] a distance of 1.5 metres between pupils in classrooms, laboratories and learning resources rooms, and a distance of 2m between pupils in other facilities of the educational establishments,” the guidelines state.

“The maximum number of pupils per classroom in schools is 15 pupils.”

Dates must be confirmed for sterilisation of premises, plastic barriers should be installed in areas where it is difficult to maintain a distance of two metres and younger pupils should be supervised and educated on the importance of washing their hands.

The Ministry of Education protocols stress that no group activities, such as trips, sports or camping, can be held.

It has offered parents the option of continuing distance learning for the first term.

The Ministry of Education has outlined procedures in place in case the Covid-19 risk level rises. Ministry of Education

But schools in the UAE say the majority of pupils will return on Sunday for in-person lessons.

“Parents have thought of the risk of a child not going to school and the social and emotional impact that would have,” said Simon Crane, headmaster at Brighton College Dubai, who confirmed that 95 per cent of pupils would be returning for in-person learning.

“I think parents are concerned their children are falling behind. They need human-to-human contact,” he said.

“Distance learning was done at a good standard but cannot replicate a human-to-human connection.”