Canadian Angela Campbell has mixed feelings about sending her 15-year-old daughter back to school: While she does not want her ninth grader to miss lessons due to prolonged school closure, she also fears the disease.
“I know vaccinated people can still get infected, so I am anxious,” she says. The girl is fully vaccinated.
The news of school reopening is like “a hit to the gut” for Campbell and many other parents.
Recently HCMC announced the two-week trial resumption of classes for all first, ninth and 12th graders starting Dec. 13.
In Hanoi, high school students will be back to school a week earlier.
But as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to rage, leading to hospitalization, including of children, parents have one pressing question: is it safe to go back to school?
On Dec. 1, there were 14,506 new cases in 60 provinces and cities, the second highest number since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020.
On Dec. 4, the Health Ministry reported 13,993 new Covid-19 cases in 57 provinces and cities. HCMC continues to be the hotspot, while Hanoi is also seeing a record number of daily new cases.
Parents of first graders in Saigon are especially worried since children are yet to be vaccinated.
The city Department of Health reported in November that 86 percent of infected people have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. In Hanoi, the rate was 62 percent.
Hoang Van Tuan of HCMC'S District 10 is anxious his six-year-old son will start going to school in a week from now.
“My son is thrilled about going to school for the first time [in his life], but I have been a cat on hot bricks worrying about his safety because he is not eligible for Covid vaccination”.
He says he has thought about keeping his child at home to “avoid infection risk”.
His wife pitches in, “I want my son to experience classrooms and meet new friends, but not amid the pandemic's dark cloud, especially when a new Covid variant has been detected”.
A recent poll by VnExpress found 79 percent of parents of first-graders saying they will not let their children return to school.
A medic inoculates Covid-19 vaccine to a high school girl in District 1, HCMC, Oct. 27, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Many people are also worried because it is hard to ensure children are careful, which puts them at higher risk.
According to the Ministry of Health, children under 18 account for around 17 percent of all Covid patients in Vietnam.
Sarah Lancet, mother of a first-grader in Hanoi's Tay Ho District, is worried her daughter will take off her mask while playing with her friends in class or forget to sanitize her hands regularly when her parents are not around.
“[Kids] do not sit still or keep social distance during break times; how can they be safe from the virus?” the 39-year-old American asks. Her daughter's school in Long Bien District plans to have fewer children in each classroom, “but I doubt its effectiveness since children still interact with each other on the playground and balcony”.
Jacque Montague Raymer is also worried about children's safety at school.
“It's not about kids dying from Covid; it’s about kids taking Covid home to infect parents and grandparents who then end up dying,” he tells VnExpress International.
Some parents support HCMC's trial program, anxious for their kids' social, emotional and intellectual development and worried they are not able to give their child adequate attention or, if they can, lose their incomes.
English teacher Laura Price, who lived in lockdown in Argentina and the U.K. before coming to Vietnam in July, said she is “very happy” for her fully vaccinated 16-year-old twins to return to school since “they need social contact and some normality”.
While she is concerned about infection, she says she is “more concerned about their mental health right now”.
Nguyen Van Duc, a worker in Binh Tan District, has similar fears, and says the prolonged school closure will take a toll on children's emotional and social development.
Since the country has decided to live with the pandemic, students should return to school so that their parents can return to work, many parents opine.
“Not all parents can stay at home and care for their kids all day. People like me have to worry about work and bring home an income during this challenging period,” Duc, the father of a 15-year-old, says.
According to the HCMC Department of Education and Training, teachers and other school staff will be trained in pandemic prevention in early December.
City authorities have instructed all schools to complete Covid-19 safety plans before Dec. 3. They will have to be approved by local steering committees for Covid-19 Prevention and Control before the schools can reopen.
Hanoi schools are also required to implement pandemic prevention and control measures based on the guidelines provided by the Departments of Health and Education and Training.
Students will only attend school for half a day. Canteens will be closed.
On the first day of school, children will be trained in coronavirus prevention measures including medical declarations and others. If a student or teacher has symptoms like fever, cough or breathing difficulty, they need to stay back at home and inform the school.
But none of this enough to put parent at ease.
“I feel like I am putting my son at risk every day if he goes to school,” Campbell says.
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