A paediatrics expert and a lawmaker representing the education sector have advised against suspending full-day in-person teaching if Hong Kong’s daily Covid-19 case count tops 10,000. Their remarks came as a survey of more than 1,000 secondary school students found that almost two-thirds of respondents said they were worried about socialising without face masks.

primary student Covid-19 face mask
Primary school students in Hong Kong. Photo: Supplied.

Hong Kong’s education chief Choi Yuk-lin said on Saturday that authorities would see “whether the full-day class arrangement is appropriate” if daily infections exceed 10,000. On Sunday, the city reported 9,708 new infections.

Speaking on RTHK on Monday morning, Lau Yu-lung, the chair professor of paediatrics at the University of Hong Kong, said the government should not “casually” roll back face-to-face teaching.

Lau said studying in schools is tantamount to students’ physical and mental well-being. “Without schooling… everyone would lose their social skills. Then what?” he added.

He said the authorities should continue to allow full-day teaching if 90 per cent of students at a school have received at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

“If full-day classes are offered, [schools] will have more space and time to host other extra-curricular activities,” Lau said, adding that these activities complement what students learn in class.

Chu Kwok-keung, a legislator who represented the education functional constituency, also urged the Education Bureau to not suspend full-day classes during the same radio programme.

Chu said many in the education sector hoped the Covid-19 restrictions could stay as they were. It might even be “more dangerous” if secondary schools were to only offer half-days, he added.

“Many students have their meals in restaurants, there could be a lot of gatherings during lunchtime. Some might even start to work part-time.” Chu said.

Chu said previous class suspensions and the shift to online teaching had impacted students both physically and psychologically. He said he had learned that some students suffered from eating disorders, addiction to video games, or other mental problems.

“The entire education sector would oppose [a return to] online teaching, because the outcome is really poor,” Chu added.

Chu Kwok-keung
Chu Kwok-keung. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

If the government was to roll back full-day classes, the lawmaker said that schools should be notified in advance and that final-year secondary school students should be exempted, as they had to prepare for their university entry exam.

Students fear socialising without masks

Meanwhile, a study conducted by Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service revealed that 63 per cent of the more than 1,000 secondary school students they interviewed in June worried about meeting others without masks.

Nearly half of the respondents added they were more afraid of real-life social activities when compared to pre-pandemic times.

The group said the results showed that young people were getting used to hiding their emotions and feelings as they had been living with masks for a long period, and expressed concern that teenagers would withdraw from socialising in the future.

It urged the government to consider letting schools and community centres host more events for young people to interact socially.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.