Schools ordered to open as planned

Fears that the start of the school year would be delayed by the swine flu pandemic are dispelled and will open as planned.

Passengers arriving at Abu Dhabi International Airport are scanned for signs of fever. There are concerns that families returning from summer holidays abroad may inadvertently bring swine flu back with them.
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ABU DHABI // Fears that the start of the school year would be delayed by the swine flu pandemic were dispelled yesterday as schools were being told to stick to their planned opening dates over the next couple of weeks.

But the Abu Dhabi Education Council warned it would consider closing any that had a large number of cases. Schools have been told yesterday not to delay starting the term unless the education council, in consultation with other authorities, later decides otherwise. Training sessions for school staff were held yesterday in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah but schools in Dubai said they were still waiting for instructions on how to prevent and manage an outbreak of the virus.

At a meeting in Sharjah the federal Ministry of Health said private schools would begin classes as planned and denied reports that it was considering ordering the start of term in both the state and private sectors be delayed until November. Around the region, plans are up in the air. In Kuwait, discussions about the start date are still going on, instigated by MPs who urged the cabinet to announce a general postponement following a decision to delay the start of private kindergartens.

Saudi Arabia is preparing a "comprehensive plan" to deal with any potential swine flu outbreak in schools, a local daily, Arab News, reported. Authorities in Qatar will release recommendations to schools in the next few weeks but any delay in the start of school is unlikely, The Peninsula in Qatar reported. Health and education authorities in Abu Dhabi told schools that they would be closed only if an outbreak was severe and widespread.

Despite the two training sessions, some schools were still concerned that they had not been given enough information by either health or education authorities. Allan Forbes, head teacher at the English College in Dubai, which opens on September 8, said: "There has been no clear directive from the Ministry of Health, from the Ministry of Education, so you're kind of going in eyes closed to a certain extent and hoping for the best."

Staff would meet on Sunday to draw up a contingency plan. Mr Forbes said many people wanted reassurance and directives about what schools should be doing. These should include exactly what federal authorities insist schools do, what they were advising, and what was optional and what was not. "But not to hear anything puts everyone in this position where you're trying to make a policy on this, and that's when you can get people potentially doing the wrong thing that they can be criticised on afterwards."

According to the Adec, more than 60 teachers and school nurses attended the training session held in collaboration with the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi. Dr Mugheer Khamis al Khaili, the director general of the council, said the training was mandatory for all public and private schools in the emirate and would be repeated over coming weeks to ensure all schools attended before reopening. Information handed out at each of the sessions related to hygiene, protocol and prevention. According to the education authority, each school in Abu Dhabi must appoint two staff to take the training.