The longest holiday: parents coping with coronavirus school closures in east Asia – The Guardian

Posted: March 3, 2020 at 10:46 am


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Most Hong Kong schoolchildren have not returned to school since the lunar new year holidays and the government has extended closures to 20 April. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Its been a long holiday, laughs Hong Kong insurance worker and mother, Sarah Wong.

Wong and her two daughters, Chloe and Greeta, are at a co-working space in Jordan, Kowloon. Chloe has set her desk up like home, with an iPad, her own lamp, and an aromatherapy diffuser. The girls, aged 12 and eight, are listening to online lessons from their school which has been closed because of the coronavirus.

What is Covid-19 - the illness that started in Wuhan?

It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.

Have there been other coronaviruses?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. In 2002, Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. Mers appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35% of about 2,500 people who have been infected.

What are the symptoms caused by the new coronavirus?

The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?

UK Chief Medical Officers are advising anyone who has travelled to the UK from mainlandChina, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last 14 days and who is experiencing a cough or fever or shortness of breath to stay indoors and call NHS 111, even if symptoms are mild.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

Chinas national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere.

How many people have been affected?

As of 3 March,the outbreak has affected more than 89,000 people globally, with atotal death toll in excess of 3,000. In mainland China, of the80,151 confirmed cases, over 44,000 people have recovered, and 2,943 (or 3.6%) have died. Over 125 deaths have occurred outside ofChina.

The coronavirus has spread tomore than 60 other countries. The worst affected include South Korea with nearly 5,000 cases, and Iran, with over 1,500 cases.

There have been40 recorded cases and no fatalities to date in the UK.

Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?

We dont yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we wont know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2% at the centre of the outbreak, Hubei province, and less than that elsewhere. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%.

Another key unknown is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems to protect themselves. Hand-washing and avoiding other people if you feel unwell are important. One sensible step is to get the flu vaccine, which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic.

Is the outbreak a pandemic?

A pandemic, in WHO terms, is the worldwide spread of a disease. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed outside China, but by no means in all 195 countries on the WHOs list. It is also not spreading within those countries at the moment, except in a very few cases. By far the majority of cases are travellers who picked up the virus in China.

Should we panic?

No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The WHO hasdeclared the outbreak to be a public health emergencyof international concern. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people, and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children.

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Across the world, governments are ordering or contemplating school closures in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. French officials closed about 120 schools in areas that have reported the largest numbers of infections, its education minister said on Tuesday.

In some countries parents have already had their children at home for more than a month. Some have taken holidays or sent the kids overseas to relatives.

Most Hong Kong schoolchildren never returned to school following the lunar new year holidays after the government announced and then extended closures to 20 April.

In the first few weeks it was a little bit troublesome, it messed up all our schedules not only the kids but all of our daily routine and work schedules, Wong says.

But the start of online classes brought back routine and relieved the girls boredom, Wong says, and shes lucky to have an employer who lets her work flexibly. Friends arent so fortunate and she says they are panicked.

When the weather is nice, Wong takes the girls to the playground or the beach, but amid calls for people to practise social distancing, theyre missing their friends.

On Hong Kong Island the age gap between Eiffel Chaus children kindergarten, grade one, and grade five has made it difficult to manage all three.

The youngest one in kindergarten doesnt have any online class, Chau says.

I just need to keep her busy so she wont disturb the other two kids. She has company, but she sees the parents at home so she expects the parents to do something with her.

Chau says hes lucky that hes permitted to work from home, as his wife is a teacher and is busy running online classes for her students.

His advice to other parents facing the same situation is to take advantage of it. Hong Kongs schooling is notoriously demanding, but Chau is using the extra time to teach his kids more responsibility for their home and chores, and to do more exercise.

At the same time its also a good opportunity for us to catch up with family relations, he says. We have nowhere to go, even on the weekend. We do board games, and card games, thats something we can take this chance to do.

In China, millions of students have been home from school since mid-February. Schools have been ordered to provide online lessons, and primary classes are reportedly broadcast on public television.

Officials have advised, and in some cases ordered, families to stay inside, making the absence of school even harder for restless children stuck at home. Online videos show families playing elaborate games.

A flood of advice online ranges from creating strict daily schedules to follow, to videos with home science experiments and tips for activities. A notice in February from the Gulou district in Beijing advised parents to cherish the time: The parent is the most important teacher in every childs life, it said.

But discussion topics such as what kind of life have parents been pressured into and school start date is postponed have more than 400m views and thousands of comments.

I just want to know when kindergarten starts, one wrote.

The kids are so destructive and parents are going crazy. I hope the epidemic passes as soon as possible, so that these destructive little beasts can study.

Others complained about the difficulty of supervising their kids online classes and heavy workload. One said: I am being tortured to death by these online classes. When will this end?

In Japan many working parents were horrified by the governments weekend announcement requesting every primary, middle and high school in the country to close until the start of the new academic year in mid-April.

The unprecedented shutdown, affecting almost 13 million pupils, has forced companies to rethink their rigid work practices, to allow working from home or shortening business hours.

Working mothers complained that the shutdown would force them to take time off, given the shortage of daycare facilities and the scarcity of nannies and babysitters.

An online poll by Yahoo Japan found 49% of parents said they would leave their children home alone, 20% would take time off work and 14% would enlist the help of grandparents. In a few cases, parents have had no choice but to take their children to work. They include Keiko Kobayashi, a senior manager at a multinational staffing service in Tokyo.

I was shocked by the news of the school closures, and thought, what should I do? Kobayashi told Associated Press. There was no explanation of how this is going to work.

Back in Kowloon, Wong looks at her girls studying at the table and smiles. I really hope they can go back to school soon, she says. They keep saying I want to go to school, which is good because before they didnt want to go.

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The longest holiday: parents coping with coronavirus school closures in east Asia - The Guardian

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March 3rd, 2020 at 10:46 am

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