Public health doctor Leong Iek Hou, coordinator of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in response to a press question that students on school suspension should stay home, and away from playgrounds.
Her comment was given at the regular health press briefing yesterday.
When the current cases were detected on September 24 and 25, the Education and Youth Development Bureau (DSEDJ) ordered a suspension on classes at all education levels. The suspension was set until October 3.
However, at yesterday’s press conference, Kong Chi Meng, deputy director of the DSEDJ, said that the suspension will be extended to an as yet unconfirmed date.
At the same time, officials from the Health Bureau have reiterated that the latest three cases should not pose great risk to the community because they were detected while the patients were in quarantine.
The authorities were asked why the current measures affecting the resumption of school are not aligned with the risks reported or estimated by the government.
Leong said that, after an evaluation, the risk posed for the community by the three latest cases was low but not zero. As a result, the authorities decided on an extension of the school suspension order. “We hope to maximally lower the risks,” Leong said.
She added that if students are not deemed suitable for schooling by the authorities, they should not be in crowded places either. “We discourage parents or guardians from bringing their children to crowded areas such as playgrounds and parks,” Leong said.
Complaints have been made on social media platforms that the sudden school suspension has left many parents absent from work because no adult was able to take care of the children at home.
Regarding this, Kong from the DSEDJ reiterated the importance of community safety in support of the suspension extension. Moreover, he recalled that last year the authority had worked with schools on “friendly measures” which allowed schools to remain moderately open in order to take care of students whose parents needed to work and lacked access to the care of another adult.
However, he added that these “friendly measures” will only be available when there is an extensive school suspension like that of last year.
Questions were also raised on vaccination, with the government changing its position from “vaccination against infection” to “vaccination against severity.” In light of the latest eight cases – seven new and a relapse – having all been vaccinated, questions were raised regarding the risk of widespread infection being possible regardless of vaccination.
Furthermore, should the government retain its position that herd immunity is achievable, given these cases demonstrate that infection is still possible after vaccination?
Neurosurgeon Tai Wa Hou, medical director of the public Conde de São Januário Hospital, admitted to the change in official discourse. He also admitted that the whole world had expected the vaccine to be able to halt infections, which was later proven not to be possible.
Explaining this, Tai said: “First, no vaccine is 100% capable of preventing infection. Second, variants have made vaccines less effective in preventing infection. The vaccines available to us have claimed at least 80% protection against severe cases and fatality.”
He added that the six new patients had not developed significant symptoms because they were vaccinated. “If they were not detected by regular tests, they would not have been spotted,” he said. He did not address the risk to the community had they been able to roam around the city without being detected.
The latest six cases, according to the Health Bureau, were linked to the 64th patient – also vaccinated – with a travel history in the Middle East. This proves that vaccinated individuals may still be contagious if they contract the virus.
Tai added that if the six patients were not vaccinated, “our ICU might have taken them in due to [symptomatic] severity.”
The authorities were also asked whether they should or would begin promoting the new normal, in which the city has a vaccination rate of 80% or above and when a community outbreak is detected, no restriction measures will be implemented.
This scenario carried the implication that regular, pre-Covid life would resume as if nothing had happened.
In response, Tai admitted that not even the health authorities dare to imagine what the future will be like. It is still unclear whether daily mask wearing will still be needed even if an 80% vaccination rate is achieved.
Tai instead posed a challenge to the public — that if they do not get vaccinated, life will continue in the current mode.
“Imagine if many people get vaccinated and they don’t develop symptoms even if they contract the virus, it will just be a flu,” he added. “This is a state of living with the virus.”
However, he stressed that the authorities do not dare to guarantee whether “living with the virus” will happen, even if a certain vaccination rate is reached.