Experts say SOP compliance is not the only factor for consideration when it comes to Covid-19 outbreaks in schools, as cases related to so-called education clusters mount amid a surge in infections across the country.
While adherence to health guidelines plays a role in keeping infections at bay, they say other circumstances should also be taken into account.
Aminuddin Awang, president of the National Union of the Teaching Profession, said the source of infection in many cases is unclear.
“When Covid-19 cases are reported in schools, we are not sure where they come from,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“The student may have been infected with the virus outside the school compound, so we can’t attribute the outbreak to the school entirely.”
Just this week, Kelantan health authorities said 259 secondary school students had tested positive for Covid-19 from April 3 to 16.
State health director Dr Zaini Hussin said 111 primary school students had also tested positive for the virus.
In Petaling Jaya, meanwhile, the district health office announced the closure of 19 schools for disinfection and screening after the emergence of Covid-19 clusters.
Aminuddin said the education ministry had provided a complete guideline for the safe operation of schools during the pandemic.
But he added that SOP compliance among students was not the schools’ responsibility alone.
He said many might only follow SOPs while on the school premises, and disregard them once they leave school.
Health experts agreed that schools are not necessarily an amplifier of Covid-19, saying cases linked to schools simply reflect the prevalence of the virus within the community.
Dr Lim Kuan Joo, an honorary council member of the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations, Malaysia, said Covid-19 cases in schools were difficult to avoid as students could become infected at various places outside the school compound.
“A student could be infected at home, or while travelling in crowded buses and trains that carry passengers from multiple sources.
“All these are opportunities for the transmission of an airborne virus,” he told MalaysiaNow.
However, he added that crowded classrooms and a lack of temperature screening in schools could contribute to the overall problem.
Dr Subramaniam Muniandy, president of the Malaysian Medical Association, said keeping schools open during the pandemic requires a collective effort.
He said adhering to SOPs outside the school compound is as important as following them at school, adding that teachers, parents, canteen operators, pupils and transport providers all have a role to play.
“Selangor is one of the states recording the highest number of new cases of Covid-19, so it is important for people in the state to understand the risk and ensure they adhere to the SOPs at all times,” he said.
Aminuddin suggested that schools reconsider the earlier rotation model proposed by the education ministry, saying this could help ensure better compliance with SOPs which could prevent Covid-19 outbreaks in schools.
“Schools outside red zones and high-risk areas should consider adopting the rotation model,” he said.
“Divide students from one class into smaller groups and have them attend classes on alternate days. This would prevent the overcrowding of pupils at schools.”