EDITORIAL: Conflicting measures need clarity

Most schools in Taiwan reopened for the new semester as planned on Friday, despite concerns about the local spread of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. Only Kaohsiung and Taoyuan have postponed the reopening of kindergartens until tomorrow, and Kaohsiung announced on Thursday that elementary schools will also delay their start to tomorrow, due to concerns about a few local cluster infections.

Of the six special municipalities, five have announced that schools will be closed for 14 days if a faculty member or student is diagnosed with COVID-19, a stricter standard than the Department of Education guidelines.

Keelung, Hsinchu City, Hsinchu County and Yunlin have also adopted stricter standards.

Ministry guidelines state that a class in which a faculty member or student is diagnosed with COVID-19 must be suspended for 14 days; the entire school must be closed for two weeks if it has at least two faculty members or students confirmed with COVID-19; and schools with confirmed cases must suspend all major events.

Local media quoted health experts expressing differing views, including that the ministry’s guidelines were carefully discussed and took into consideration the effect on students and their families, as parents may need to take unpaid childcare leave for disease prevention, and that ranges for class suspensions could be decided based on testing and contact tracing.

In October last year, the WHO Regional Office for Europe called on schools to stay open and use disease prevention and response measures, saying school closures the previous year had disrupted the education of millions of students and done more harm than good, especially to the mental health of children. health and social well-being.

Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), said suspending an entire school for two weeks would be “too harsh”.

The Education Ministry said on Thursday it was respecting local governments’ enhanced disease prevention measures, but “suspending classes should not mean suspending education.” Schools should prepare for remote learning or make up for missed classes on weekends or after school.

Inconsistent policies between local governments can be confusing to the public, especially when their own policies reflect conflicting values.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said on Wednesday that more than 400 people had been ordered to self-isolate due to one confirmed case, and only one moderately severe COVID-19 case. has been reported in Taiwan this year. However, more than 20,000 people have been placed in solitary confinement. Ko wonders if the social costs are bearable.

He suggested that in addition to disease prevention, the need for social relief, economic stimulation and transformation should be considered, and that restrictions should be eased for people who have been vaccinated. Therefore, the city must begin easing restrictions, including allowing school field trips and graduation field trips, starting Tuesday if COVID-19 remains under control.

The city government’s attitude appears ambiguous, as it calls for an easing of restrictions to reduce the huge social costs of contact tracing and isolation despite its stricter school suspension standard.

While the CECC said national restrictions and border controls could be relaxed as early as next month, it is important that government agencies make consistent decisions based on data and scientific evidence, while communicating and reassuring the audience about the changes through clear messages, rather than leaving them more anxious and confused.

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