Singapore

Schools take precautions in light of Zika

James Cook University cuts down banana trees, fogs campus

Zika may have caught many off-guard in Singapore, but not this university in the outbreak's epicentre.

James Cook University at 149, Sims Drive is just a block away from the Block 45 coffee shop, the workplace of the 47-year-old Malaysian woman who was the first locally-transmitted case.

Dr Dale Anderson, deputy vice-chancellor and head of the university's Singapore campus, said: "A few months ago, after we heard news of the first Zika case in Singapore, we began putting together an action plan in case Zika or other mosquito-related diseases broke out here."

Forty bottles of insect repellents and 2,000 patches were acquired by the university.

Dr Anderson said: "On Sunday morning, I received a phone call from the Council for Private Education, alerting me to the outbreak of Zika cases in our area.

"Immediately, our facility management team was activated to inspect the entire campus for potential mosquito-breeding grounds."

The university had already started fortnightly fogging the night before.

On Monday morning, staff and students were briefed on the precautions to take.

Those who are pregnant or have pregnant family members were advised to work or study from home.

Dr Anderson said students who do not feel safe going to school can request to study from home.

"While education is definitely important, safety comes first," he explained.

The university gave out repellents and patches as well as flier from National Environment Agency (NEA) with information on Zika.

Some pregnant lecturers have chosen to continue teaching.

Dr Anderson said: "We have two lecturers who have opted to continue coming to school despite our advice. But they go home once their lectures are done."

MINIMISE DISRUPTION

Lecturers also try to minimise disruption by uploading content online, including lessons recorded by lecturers who have chosen to stay at home, and preparing make-up lessons scheduled for next week - if the situation does not worsen.

One of the more drastic measures that the university has taken is to fell banana trees on the campus, as advised by its pest control manager.

Water can collect on banana leaves and stems, becoming potential mosquito-breeding sites.

While Dr Anderson expressed regret for having cut down the trees, he said: "We are not taking any risks when it comes to the safety of our staff and students.

"I take this matter very, very seriously because the risks posed by Zika are very real."

Students told The New Paper yesterday that they felt secure on campus because of the swift actions taken by the university.

Mr Aakash Goyal, a 21-year-old from India, said: "I am worried only when I travel back from campus to my home in Kembangan."

Other students are taking their own precautionary measures.

Local student Harsh Ahuja, 21, was clad in arm sleeves and trousers.

"I really like wearing bermudas but now I have to cover myself to minimise exposure to mosquitoes," he said.

Other schools in the cluster area are also working to ensure the safety of their staff and students.

Geylang Methodist School, both primary and secondary, is working with NEA on vector control efforts.

Mr Wee Tat Chuan, principal of Geylang Methodist School (Secondary), said: "Both schools fumigated their compounds last Saturday to prevent mosquito-breeding in the school grounds."

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