Unrelenting COVID rules cast clouds over Hong Kong schools

In Hong Kong, stringent COVID-19 curbs have long made life for school students extremely hard. Now, a new rule requiring higher vaccination levels could upend what progress has been made towards resuming full-day in-person classes.

Further delays to normal school life are likely to exacerbate youth mental health problems as well as give more people reason to leave the city, further undermining its status as an Asian financial hub, educators and business leaders warn.

“There is so much uncertainty over whether classes are going to be cancelled, can the kids go to school? The school uncertainty is definitely helping to drive people away and it makes it hard to attract people to Hong Kong,” said Robert Quinlivan, head of the city’s Australian business chamber.

Some 30,000 students withdrew from Hong Kong schools in the last academic year and more than 5,000 teachers resigned, according to government data.

Many are part of an exodus kickstarted by Beijing’s efforts to exert greater control over the city and which has been further fuelled by COVID curbs. About 113,000 residents left the former British colony in the first half of 2022. That includes expats and local families, many of whom have taken advantage of visa schemes offered by Britain, Canada and Australia.

Aiming to boost the city’s vaccination rates, authorities this month stipulated that after Nov. 1, secondary schools can only conduct full-day in-person classes if 90% of students have had three COVID shots.

Meeting that target before then will be very difficult for many schools, teachers told Reuters, declining to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The most immediate impact will be on international schools – which recently resumed full-day in-person classes, having gained levels of 90% for students with two COVID shots. Local schools and some international primary schools are still limited to half-day in-person and half-day online classes due to lower vaccination rates.

Source: Tap News Agency