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EGYPT: Return to schools shadowed by swine flu threat

October 4, 2009 | 11:26 am

42Fear of swine flu has made for a hectic beginning of the Egyptian school year. 

Schools were supposed to start in the final week of September, but that date was pushed back until yesterday to ensure that administrators were prepared to cope with an outbreak of H1N1. Over the last week, officials including the minister of education were promising that the schools had met necessary health requirements. But scenes from yesterday and today did little to ease the the anxieties of parents and students.

Hundreds of parents accompanied their children to school to make sure that the procedures announced by officials would be enough to guarantee the children's safety. Many, however, were shocked to find unclean and ill-prepared institutions. 

"Opposite to what was earlier promised, teachers didn’t provide students with protective masks, and the kids say that their school didn’t even have cleaning sanitizers," one parent whose children go to a public school in Imbaba, Cairo, told The Times.

Officials had said each school would have at least one quarantine room for students who develop swine flu symptoms, but a public schools complex in the Giza governorate sent students home Saturday because these rooms were not ready.

School headmasters in the cities of Mansoura and Menya and have been fired, suspended or put under investigation because their schools failed to implement the government's plan in face of the H1N1 threat.

"We were told that medical care will be available for our sons throughout the whole day, but we discovered that the doctors brought in were working as part-timers and left schools at noon," said a parent from Sohag governorate.

About 985 cases of swine flu have been reported in Egypt; two people died as a result of the virus so far.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Students wearing masks in a classroom. Credit: Al Destour