On February 23, the Ministry of Education (MOE) held a press conference to introduce pandemic preparedness for schools. The event was attended by Wang Dengfeng, Head of the MOE’s pandemic preparedness leading group and Director-general of the MOE’s Physical Education, Health and Art Department, Lv Yugang, Director-general of the MOE’s Department of Basic Education, Wu Yan, Director-general of the MOE’s Department of Higher Education, Hu Baijing, Vice president of Renmin University of China, and Song Dan, Vice president of Dalian University of Technology. MOE spokesperson Xu Mei served as moderator at the conference.
Effective containment achieved in schools
According to Wang Dengfeng, the earlier sporadic Covid-19 outbreaks occurring in China were now well-contained, and high-risk and medium-risk areas fell to zero on February 22, which showed remarkable success in the country’s effort to fight against Covid-19.
Under this backdrop, the education sector also saw impressive progress in tackling the pandemic challenges. From the first coronavirus case arose in China to now, no cluster of cases occurred on campus. During the Spring Festival holidays in 2021, there were no additional confirmed or suspicious cases occurring in schools. Wang attributed this outstanding performance to three factors: first, local education authorities provided overall guidance while allowing flexible measures to be taken to accommodate differing circumstances of schools and students; second, pandemic guides for school operation were timely offered and updated; third, clear accountability and authority were delegated to specific roles in schools, and all faculty involved had showed great commitment and dedication.
“But now is not the time to slack off on coronavirus prevention, as we are still facing challenges in the upcoming spring semester.” Wang pointed out. He proposed several measures: 1. education authorities and schools should closely follow the development of the situation and make flexible school opening arrangements accordingly; 2. students should return to school in staggered shifts; 3. safety-awareness programs and emergence drills should be conducted on campus; 4. stringent measures should be adopted in daily school operation and routine inspection should be made.
A healthy Spring Festival for all students
According to Wang, 416,300 students from 2,720 reporting universities and colleges stayed in schools during the Spring Festival this year.
Hu Baijing said, an unprecedented number of 1,208 students in Renmin University of China stayed on campus during the Spring Festival holiday. To make them feel at home, a series of supportive measures were taken: timely financial assistance were provided to economically disadvantaged students; arrangements were made to ensure students were easily accessible to food, grocery shopping and medical services; faculty members were placed on duty to respond to students’ needs; online and in-person mental health support was offered; a series of online courses on pandemic preparedness and mental health self-care were offered; and every student was offered 100GB mobile data for free. The school management team also celebrated Chinese New Year’s eve with students and had holiday dinner together.
Song Dan added that in his university, the student health center was opened around the clock, and a total of 32 mental health consultants were placed on duty to offer emotional and mental health support.
Wang said, effort was also made to ensure safety and health of faculty and students who returned home during the holidays. Schools kept regular contact with these faculty and students and kept track of their health conditions on a daily basis.
Safe school reopening
Lv Yugang said, primary and secondary schools in Beijing were allowed to adjust their school reopening plans according to specific circumstances, while schools in Chongqing, Guangdong Province and Shandong Province would reopen as scheduled.
Wu Yan said most universities and colleges in China were going to reopen as scheduled, while a few number of pandemic-impacted schools would delay school return but offered online courses as scheduled.