Chinese officials respond to school reopening, travel concerns
A medical staff takes a swab for nucleic acid testing at the Hanjiang Meiqi School in Yangzhou City, east China's Jiangsu Province, August 5, 2021. /CFP

A medical staff takes a swab for nucleic acid testing at the Hanjiang Meiqi School in Yangzhou City, east China's Jiangsu Province, August 5, 2021. /CFP

Locals are concerned over the recent outbreaks of COVID-19 cases in 15 Chinese provinces, which have been reported to be linked to cases from different overseas sources. In this context, what is the outlook for the upcoming back-to-school season? Can holiday travel continue unhindered? The Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council of China held a press conference on Thursday to respond to these concerns and briefed the media about the further strengthening of COVID-19 containment measures.

"Judging from the overall current situation of the epidemic, one can say that it should be controllable," said He Qinghua, an inspector at the Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention of the National Health Commission. He said the current outbreak has a wide range and involves cases from different overseas sources, posing a challenge for containment efforts.

However, as long as all prevention and control measures are strictly implemented, the epidemic can be controlled within two to three incubation periods, or four to six weeks if the latency period is calculated at 14 days, he said.

Back-to-school: Different schools, different policies

Liu Peijun, deputy director of the Ministry of Education's physical education, health and art department, also addressed parents' concerns at the press conference. The autumn back-to-school arrangement should be arranged according to local conditions to ensure the orderly start of the fall semester, he said.

Liu said study stages as well as local conditions and situation of COVID-19 outbreaks are different in various provinces and regions. Therefore, the autumn semester this year should be arranged in accordance with the country's overall epidemic containment decisions as well as local actualities and policy arrangements.

Considering its own situation and the realities of different schools, each province and city should decide on the specific arrangements for reopening schools, epidemic containment measures and teaching and educational activities, he explained.

However, he said schools in medium-high risk areas should suspend in-person teaching activities and postpone the new semester. 

In fact, many provincial and municipal education departments have issued a variety of local policies. For example, Beijing requires students of its primary and secondary schools and kindergartens to return to Beijing 14 days before the start of the new semester and monitor their health situation daily, while Jiangxi, Henan, Hunan, Fujian and Heilongjiang provinces are speeding up the vaccination of minors.

Read more: Chinese universities delay fall semester due to surge in COVID-19 cases

Tourism: 1,152 A-level tourist sites closed

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued an emergency notice on Tuesday, stressing that indoor cultural and tourist activities should be restricted, closed or suspended in accordance with the local epidemic containment requirements to curb the virus spread.

On Thursday, it issued a notice on inter-provincial tourism management, suspending inter-provincial group tourism and "air ticket+hotel" business for provinces or regions of medium-high risk areas.

As of Wednesday, 1,152 A-level tourist sites in 20 provinces and regions across China had been suspended in accordance with local epidemic prevention and control requirements, said Yu Changguo, an official with the ministry, on August 5.

Some offline large-scale events have also been suspended or postponed to meet epidemic prevention and control requirements. 

The National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing and many other institutions canceled or postponed performances in August, or transferred to online. The Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF), originally scheduled from August 14 to 21, has also been postponed due to the outbreak.

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