Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

COVID-19 testing begins as schools ready for reopening in Phnom Penh

A healthcare worker tests a student for COVID-19 at Chea Sim Santhor Mok high school in Phnom Penh, September 10, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
A healthcare worker tests a student for COVID-19 at Chea Sim Santhor Mok high school in Phnom Penh, September 10, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

As the government prepares to reopen secondary schools in Phnom Penh, some say they will require parents and students to test for COVID-19.

On September 9, Phnom Penh City Hall issued an instruction to reopen all public and private schools in Phnom Penh from the secondary school level up from September 15. Schools were closed for in-person learning after the period of community transmission referred to as the February 20 event, which began the ongoing viral outbreak. But after Cambodia began vaccinating children aged 12 and up last month, the government said older children could return to school.

The City Hall guidelines require that staff and teachers need to take rapid COVID-19 tests before entry, and that students and teachers are to be tested if they show any sign of fever, cough, or cold.

While the guidelines don’t require parents or students to be tested if they’re asymptomatic, local authorities in some areas told families to get tested in preparation for reopening.

On Friday, hundreds of parents and students came to get rapid tests at the Santhor Mok Secondary School​ and Toul Tompong secondary school, after they were notified by their local authorities.

Van Sokha, a resident from Boeung Salang commune, who has two children studying at Santhor Mok Secondary School​, said that the village chief told her to get tested before schools reopen next week. 

“He gave me a piece of paper and said that parents need to get tested for COVID-19” she said. “And I said that the children will go to school but why require parents to test for the COVID-19 and he said because children stay home, and parents go outside which poses a risk of COVID infection.”

She added that both she and her children were glad that schools were reopening. “With online learning they cannot not study properly and they always say they want to go back to school,” she said.

Another parent, Sok Sunheng, said she was happy to get tested for COVID-19 so that her children could return to school.

“The village chief said that either the mother or father can come to get tested for COVID-19 and if one parent tests negative, the children do not need to be tested, and they can go back to school,” she said. “I am very glad that school is reopened, my children were more stressed learning at home.”

Nob Kea, Toek La’ak I commune council member, said that all parents and students are required to be tested for COVID-19 before going back to school.

“They [parents and students] are required to get tested COVID-19 in order for students to be allowed to return to school,” he said.

Udom Panha, a 17-year-old student in grade 12 said that he is eager to go back to school.

“I am very happy because I will meet my friends and classmates,” he said. “Learning at home makes us stressed with the same environment and sometimes I don’t feel able to learn. At school we can exchange new things and experiences, so it releases stress.”

Students and their parents get tested for COVID-19 at Chea Sim Santhor Mok high school, before secondary schools are reopened on September 15 in Phnom Penh, September 10, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Students and their parents get tested for COVID-19 at Chea Sim Santhor Mok high school, before secondary schools are reopened on September 15 in Phnom Penh, September 10, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Ouk Chantha, Deputy Director of the Phnom Penh Department of Education, said that according to Phnom Penh City Hall’s guidelines, students or parents are not required to take COVID-19 test before going back to school.

“Only teachers are required to take the COVID test before schools reopen,” he said. “But I am also not sure if there are new guidelines which will be implemented in each district,” he said.

Roth Channak, a grade 7 teacher at Phsar Doeum Thkov Secondary School in Phnom Penh, said that she came to get tested at Toul Tompong Secondary School because teachers and school staff are required to take the test before school reopens.

“Physical learning, of course, is better than online. The internet is a nuisance and we don’t know whether the students understand the lesson or not,” she said, adding that in general, only about 50 percent of her students typically attend classes online.

Pech Bolen, president of the Federation of Education Services in Cambodia, which operates many different private schools in Phnom Penh said that his schools are ready to welcome back the students.

He said he didn’t receive any notifications from authorities saying students must be tested, “but we are ready to test all staff and teachers.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen on August 31 called for a partial reopening of schools especially in rural areas where there is low risk of COVID-19 cases, fearing that continued closures would lead to higher rates of illiteracy and students dropping out of school.

According to the Ministry of Education, in schools that do reopen, no more than 15 pupils can gather in any one classroom or area.

On Friday, the Ministry of Health reported 660 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths, bringing the total count to 98,184 cases and 2,019 respectively since the pandemic began in early 2020. The ministry has also recorded 92,912 recovered cases.

According to a March 2021 joint assessment by the education ministry and UNICEF, more than 13,480 schools across the country were closed, affecting 3.2 million students.

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