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Hong Kong to suspend all schools due to coronavirus spike

Most cases spreading locally, raising fears of community outbreak

Mask-wearing students sit for exams at a school in Hong Kong in April. Temperature checks and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been put in place in schools in the city.    © Reuters

HONG KONG (Reuters) -- Hong Kong's Education Bureau on Friday announced the suspension of all schools from Monday after a sharp rise in locally transmitted coronavirus cases fuelled fears of renewed community spread.

Schools in the Asian financial hub have been mostly shut since January, with many having switched to online learning and lessons by conference call. Many international schools are already on summer break.

Hong Kong reported 38 new coronavirus cases on Friday, edging down from Thursday's 42 but broadly in line with a sharp increase that the city registered over the past three days.

Authorities said 32 of the new cases were locally transmitted after the city reported mostly imported cases for months.

The total number of cases since late January now stands at 1,404. Seven people have died.

Some of the recent cases involved students and parents, said Education Secretary Kevin Yeung.

"Many parents are worried about the sudden growth of local transmission cases in the past few days," said Mimi Tsang, mother of 12-year-old student Melony.

However the early suspension comes as the switch to online learning at home has frustrated teachers, parents and students and exacerbated the learning gap between the haves and havenots.

More than two thirds of parents, regardless of income, believe their children have difficulty learning at home, according to a February survey by the Education University of Hong Kong.

A survey by The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) of nearly 600 low-income students shows more than 70% don't have computers and 28% have no broadband.

The early closure of schools would this time not have much impact on teaching, students and parents said, as it comes just ahead of the summer holidays.

"We just had one more week of classes to go, so I don't think there is too much difference," said 14-year-old student Ryan Chan.

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