Is school bus safe for children during COVID-19 outbreak?


IT’S back to school again for Year One to Year Four students after about four months at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak and for parents who are not able to send or pick up the children from school themselves, the school bus or van may be their only option.

However, the concern among such parents is on congestion, with no seats blocked to ensure social distancing, in school buses or vans, hence, putting their children at risk of being infected by COVID-19, especially with reports on COVID-19 on the rise again in the country.

As such, National Parents-Teacher Associations Consultative Council (PIBGN) president Associate Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Ali Hassan expressed the need for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to review the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for school bus operators.

“When it involves children, the SOP should not be relaxed, but tightened, including in terms of hygiene and also avoid congestion … when the safety of students is guaranteed, parents will feel confident to let their children take the bus or van to school,” he told Bernama.

He said it was important to avoid congestion in the school bus or van, and to monitor the children during pick-up and drop-off, to avoid a new cluster.

“Of course we are afraid … we are not sure if the school bus or van complies with the SOP … who will monitor the condition in the bus or van, whether it is congested or not, and also whether it has been sanitised.

“In aeroplanes, social distancing may not be necessary, but we are talking about school bus, where the level of hygiene is not the same, and it involves children.

“We are told not to be in crowded areas, but our children are in a congested vehicle..the concept of social distance is not implemented, even the level of cleanliness can not be ascertained and this, to me, is the cause for COVID-19 to spread,” he added.

Meanwhile, Federation of Malaysian School Bus Operators Association president Mohd Rofik Mohd Yusof said parents should not worry about letting their children ride in school buses because all school bus operators had been told to comply with the SOP outlined by MOH.

“The bus drivers are required to wear face mask at all times while they are on duty, and the vehicles have to be sanitised every day before and after sending the children, and as an additional measure, the driver has to ensure there is a sanitiser in the bus or van.

“Although we do not check the students’ body temperature, it will be checked by teachers as soon as the children arrive in school, but if the students look ill, they will not be allowed to even board the bus,” he added.

However, he said, the response from parents to use the service of school bus is currently poor.

“It could be because they do not want to pay the school bus fees, which is for one month, when the children will only be using the service for a few days this month (July), or because they are sending the children to school themselves,” he added.

Federation of Malaysian School Bus Associations president, Amali Munif Rahmat, said it is the responsibility of parents to ensure their children are well and do not have symptoms, like fever, flu and cough, before they board the bus or van to school.

“There is nothing for the parents to worry about because the school bus operators have to comply with the prescribed SOP, but they, (parents) themselves,  have to play a role and check their children’s health before allowing the kids to board the bus … if they are not healthy, do not let them go to school,” he added.

He said the bus driver would also always remind students not to touch each other or be playful, but to remain seated,  as well as to always put on the face mask when in the vehicle.

“It’s only two days (since school reopens), a new experience for the school bus operators and drivers, so there is a lot that can be improved, but when the bus arrive at school, we make sure the children get off one by one from the bus,” he added.

In the SOP issued by the MOH, the school bus drivers are also required to go for screening before they can start work, to wear the face mask at all time when at work, to ensure the children always have their face mask on and remain seated when in the vehicle.

However, they are not required to the take children’s body temperature as it will be done in school by teachers.