Back to normal as students start a new semester
Approximately 1.65 million primary and secondary school students, as well as 530,000 kindergarten students, returned to campuses to begin the new semester on Wednesday.
It is the first semester following China's downgrading of COVID-19 management on January 8.
Even as their parents and grandparents waved goodbye, students at Shanghai Huangpu Luwan No. 1 Central Primary School were happy to see their teachers and classmates.
"I prefer learning on campus to studying at home because I can play with my friends," said Xu Xiaoyu, a third-grader. "I'm also relieved that we no longer have to take nucleic acid tests now. It was troublesome."
For first-grader Wang Shuxuan, the downgrading of COVID means her mother could spend more time with her.
"My mother works at the disease control center, she was extremely busy during the pandemic outbreak," Wang explained. "She can now get off work at regular hours."
Parents are also pleased with regular schooling.
"Finally, children are back to school," said the mother of a first-grader at the school in Shanghai's downtown Huangpu District. "I hope they don't have to stay at home and take online classes."
Last year, parents were required to keep health records for two weeks prior to the new semester and submit negative nucleic acid reports for all family members living together.
They also had to print offline health codes for students to use when taking nucleic acid tests on campus.
"This time, we were also asked to observe children's health conditions, but only those who became ill were required to report to school," said a mother of a second-grader.
"It's very similar to how things were before the COVID-19 outbreak."
Parents said the children's return to campus would significantly reduce their burden.
"I feel relieved that the COVID is over and that my children can return to school for regular classes," said a father of a third-grader.
He claimed that although his family was not infected with COVID, he was not worried about it at all.
"Maybe our immunity is strong enough to withstand the virus," he speculated.
"Most of my son's classmates have recovered, which means there is low possibility for spread of the virus. So I don't think we need to worry much."
Body temperature screening and hand-sanitizing machines, however, remain in place in schools.
According to deputy principal Xu Jihong, spring is a high season for infectious diseases, and the school is reminding parents and students to protect themselves by wearing masks in public places and washing hands frequently.
"We've asked students and faculty to monitor their health and not to come to school if they get infectious diseases," she said. "We've also trained teachers and faculty and put together regular disease control materials, like disinfectants and kits for nausea and emergencies."
Xu said that the school has resumed normal operations because no nucleic acid tests will be held on campus and no test reports will be required for entry.
Most classes will be held as usual, but PE classes will be adjusted slightly due to the health concerns of students who have recently recovered from COVID and are advised to avoid strenuous exercises.
According to Lu Beibei, chief of the school's physical education group, the school held a survey among students about their infection and recovery time.
"We would advise students who have recovered within a month to avoid exercises," he said.
"We would engage those who have recovered between one and three months for moderate exercises and monitor their conditions to adjust teaching plans."
During PE classes, students wear digital watches to monitor their heart rates and oxyhemoglobin saturation, which can be viewed on the teacher's tablet.
Another piece of good news is that parents are more likely to visit the campus.
"We have a lot of activities for parents," she explained. "Next week we will hold a campus fair for students to sample cuisines from various regions of China, and we will invite some parents to participate."
The fair is an annual tradition to celebrate the Chinese New Year at the school. It is usually held on December 31 but was canceled due to the pandemic last year and will now take place on February 24.
The school served rabbit-shaped stuffed buns for lunch on the first day of school to mark the Year of the Rabbit.
"This is just the beginning, and we are confident that parents will have more opportunities to visit the campus where their children study," Xu added.