Hong Kong is set to allow full-day face-to-face classes in February regardless of schools’ vaccination rates, as the government ordered students and teaching staff to continue conducting daily rapid antigen tests (RAT) until the end of January.

Secretary for Education Christine Choi announced on Wednesday that secondary schools in Hong Kong may resume teaching students in person for a full day from February 1, 2023, while primary schools and kindergartens can follow suit on February 15.

Primary school student Covid-19
Primary school students in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

The announcement came hours after the government said it would scrap most of its Covid-19 curbs on Wednesday, including dropping the Vaccine Pass scheme which required members of the public to show vaccination proof before entering venues such as restaurants and bars.

Hong Kong schools have been subject to intermittent closures and online learning since Covid-19 emerged in the city in early 2020. The disruptions to education have left their mark on young Hongkongers, with many struggling to catch up and make friends with classmates.

Schools were previously required to reach a 90 per cent vaccination rate with students required to have received at least two jabs in order to hold full-day in-person classes.

According to Choi’s Facebook post, the Vaccine Pass requirement for teachers and other individuals to access schools was also dropped. Additionally, all students are now able to take part in extra-curricular activities and those without guardians to collect them may stay behind after school.

But the authorities ordered teaching staff and students to continue conducting daily rapid antigen tests and recording their temperature every day before school until at least January 31.

Christine Choi
The Secretary for Education Christine Choi. File photo: GovHK.

“Considering the close interaction between teachers and students in schools, the activities are frequent and there is a relatively high transmission risk,” the education chief said, adding students belonged to one of the “key protection groups.”

Cross-boundary students

Cross-boundary pupils residing in mainland China may attend classes in person in Hong Kong in February at the earliest, lawmaker Chu Kwok-keung, a representative of the education sector, said on RTHK on Friday.

He said industry representatives and the Education Bureau both agreed that cross-border secondary school students may return to campuses in the city on February 1, while primary school students are expected to resume face-to-face classes in mid-February, after almost three years of border closures.

The arrangement, which concerns around 18,000 pupils, came after the Hong Kong government said it was seeking to resume quarantine-free travel with mainland China by mid-January, despite a rampant outbreak sweeping the mainland.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.