20 Schools to Reopen Next Month in Pilot Phase, Ministries Say

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Health officials disinfect playground equipment at the Canadian International School in Phnom Penh on March 14, 2020, in this photograph posted to the Education Ministry’s Facebook page.

The government will allow 20 private schools to reopen next month in order to pilot Covid-19 school safety guidelines, according to a letter dated Tuesday from the Council of Ministers. 

The letter, signed by In Virakcheat, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers and board chair of the Cambodian Higher Education Association, said the 20 “high standard” schools, located in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang provinces, must comply with health and safety measures set by the Education Ministry, Health Ministry and World Health Organization (WHO). 

Schools have been shut nationwide since March 16, as coronavirus cases jumped in Cambodia and around the world.

Education Ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha confirmed that the 20 schools would reopen on August 1, and said the selected schools had the highest standards of health and safety. The ministry would determine the next steps to reopen schools based on the performance of those opening next month, he said.

An Education Ministry document circulated online and dated Monday referenced the first phase of reopening schools and included a list of 20 private international schools, but when asked whether the schools would be included in the first phase of reopening, Soveacha declined to answer, saying he would share the information at a later date.

Soveacha said in a message that the reopened schools would be inspected regularly to ensure they are complying with health and educational guidelines. Among the requirements from the Health Ministry and WHO, Soveacha said the schools must ensure buildings and classrooms are regularly sanitized with cleaning solutions, and teachers, students and staff would need to be tested for Covid-19.  

Schools must continue offering both distance e-learning and classroom study, as well as follow healthy studying guidelines that would be released by the Education Ministry, Soveacha said.

“In the case that these institutions are careless or violate the memorandum of understanding, those institutions will be warned and temporarily suspended,” he added. 

Health Ministry spokesperson Ly Sovann said that it was critical for reopened schools to follow guidelines set by health experts and to submit to inspections. 

Sovann did not respond to a question about whether the ministry was prepared to test students, teachers and staff for the coronavirus from all 20 schools before they reopen next month.  

“Within the technical working group, there are also officials from the Health Ministry working with the Education Ministry to monitor and inspect the work of opening the schools to make sure that we can manage and avoid Covid-19 transmission in schools,” Sovann said in a message.

As the Health Ministry reported 26 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen told a crowd of rice farmers and residents in Takeo province that the news was unfortunate and the risk of Covid-19 remained as Cambodia reopened its borders, businesses and soon some schools. 

“We are willing to endure a bit but we have safety,” Hun Sen said. “[We will] do whatever it takes to prevent people from dying because of Covid-19 and also not let any people die because of lack of food without recognizing [their hardships].” 

The premier also urged people to comply with government health and safety guidelines, and he took the opportunity to promote a vendor who makes face masks out of traditional krama material. The mask maker’s brand name, Reach Sen, sounds similar to Hun Sen’s name. 

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, said the government’s attention to Covid-19 was a positive sign, but Cambodia was still vulnerable to the coronavirus because of the nation’s limited number of medical experts and modern health care equipment. 

“Covid-19 seems to be coming in our front door, because when you come from abroad and arrive at the airport, it is like arriving at the door,” Kim Eng said on Tuesday. 

Dozens of new Covid-19 cases have been reported since June, all people entering the country from abroad who are required to be tested upon arrival.

The Health Ministry has repeatedly urged the public to maintain health and safety measures, including avoiding crowds, wearing masks and washing hands, warning that Cambodia is still at risk for community transmission as new travelers arrive in the country.

Additional reporting by Ouch Sony and Nhim Sokhorn

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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