International and private schools in Hong Kong will be allowed to continue with online classes while local schools will have to halt teaching by March 17 for an early “summer holiday” as the city plans to use school campuses for Covid-19 testing and vaccination facilities.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung announced on Monday that the summer break, which usually takes place in July and August, can begin from next Monday until after the Easter break.

Student school Covid-19 mask
Hong Kong students. Photo: GovHK.

The government will “flexibly” allow schools to begin the special break by March 17, and complete the school year by August 2 at the earliest. The last school day of the 2021-22 school year will be August 12.

Yeung said that private schools, including international schools, had a different arrangement as their school year begins in August and ends in May this year, and that teachers usually complete their contracts and leave Hong Kong in June and July. Some students might leave the city with their parents, too.

“If we move the holiday, it will be impossible for schools to arrange lessons in July and August, and students will not be able regain teaching days, creating a serious impact,” said Yeung, referring specifically to international and private schools.

The secretary said the schools guaranteed that they would only arrange online classes before the Easter break, and that staff members will not work from the campus.

Public exam arrangements

Candidates of Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exams will be asked to undergo Covid-19 self-testing before their examinations. Those who test positive will not be allowed to sit the exam.

Hong Kong students in HKDSE exam
A photo of HKDSE candidates in an examination hall. File photo: GovHK.

The HKDSE examination period will also be shortened by a week to three weeks. The government currently aims to begin the examinations on April 22.

One-off subsidies for schools

The Education Bureau also announced an anti-epidemic grant for all kindergartens, primary, and secondary schools in Hong Kong on Monday, totalling over HK$62 million.

All academies, including international schools and boarding sections of special schools, would be able to receive a subsidy ranging from HK$15,000 to HK$75,000.

A government spokesperson said on Monday that the subsidy was introduced to help schools “purchase equipment/items for epidemic prevention, procure the relevant services and items for cleaning the school premises and pay for the relevant expenses for student vaccination arrangements.”

LeaveHomeSafe notifications

After the government said that its contact tracing mobile application LeaveHomeSafe has stopped alerting users about confirmed Covid-19 cases who visited restaurants users have frequented, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said on Monday that the app has stopped notifications for all venues.

Vaccine pass supermarket
A notice inside a Wellcome supermarket in Hong Kong telling customers to scan the shop’s LeaveHomeSafe QR code for contact-tracing and make sure they have their vaccination proof. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Albert Au, principal medical and health officer from the CHP said that the suspension of warnings was made because of the prevalence of infections in the city.

“At the moment the government do not send out message through LeaveHomeSafe…because previously when there were few cases, it is very important for the population to get notifications that they have been to places where there was a case,” said Au on Monday.

“However, in the current situation when the cases is so prevalent in the community, so it is expected that there will be cases everywhere, so the notifications will not serve the purpose of notifying a person that he or she had been to a place where there were cases because there are so many cases in the community. So we stopped issuing the notifications through LeaveHomeSafe at the current moment.”

People entering a list of scheduled premises, such as supermarkets and shopping malls, government buildings, and court buildings are required to record their visit by scanning a QR code with the app at the entrances of the premises. Those who fail to comply could face a fine of HK$5,000.

Hong Kong recorded 34,466 new Covid-19 infections and 87 deaths on Monday. The city has reported at least 205,780 cases and 841 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic over two years ago.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.