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A member of the cleaning staff at Raha International School Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Schools in Abu Dhabi have been instructed to intensify cleaning protocols in the wake of the global spread of Covid-19.

The emirate’s education regulator, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), stressed the requirement on its social media platforms yesterday (March 1), as part of a list of precautionary measures undertaken since February 2 to safeguard schools from the novel coronavirus.

“We [require] schools to fully commit to stringent and intensified cleaning protocols,” the Adek said.

Disinfection and sanitisation

To get some insight into the cleaning process, Gulf News spoke with Marthinus Neethling, head of operations at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi.

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Marthinus Neethling, head of operations at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Supplied

“In the Adek/Department of Health (DoH) guidelines, schools have been directed to ‘ensure disinfection and sanitising procedures cover all areas of the school,…and that they are disinfected four times per day using an approved disinfectant’. This is a slight increase in regular cleaning practice at Raha International,” Neethling said.

“We have also been directed to clean all surfaces, frequently touched surfaces, and floors with a bleach solution,” he added.

Additional precautionary measures

The UAE stepped up its precautions over the weekend, after two Italian technicians on the UAE Tour, a men’s cycling event, tested positive for the coronavirus. At a press conference on Saturday, Hussein Al Hammadi, UAE Minister of Education, and Abdul Rahman Bin Mohammad Al Owais, UAE Minister of Health and Prevention (MOHAP), announced that nurseries in the UAE will be closed for two weeks from March 1 as a precautionary measure.

The Adek’s statement explained that nursery operations have been suspended “to protect our young ones as they are sensitive to the chemicals used in the rigorous cleaning protocols being implemented”.

Deep cleaning with bleach

“A bleach solution, as per regulatory authorities’ guidelines for disinfection against Covid-19, is used to wipe down all contact surfaces. The solution is left on for no less than 10 minutes, and then rinsed with clean water to clear,” Neethling explained.

During the day, common areas such as the canteen, outdoor seating and playgrounds are cleaned after every break, ready for the next group of students, using quaternary ammonium based products, as per DoH guidelines.

Deep cleaning is undertaken after school hours to avoid risk of contact during the cleaning process.

[Deep cleaning and disinfection is done] with a bleach solution at the end of every day when staff and students have gone home, ready for the next day, Neethling said. The bleach solution is an addition to the school’s regular cleaning products.

The school, which follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum, has 2,170 enrolled students, accommodated in 138 classrooms.

“Staff work in teams of 2 per classroom. We have a staff of 25 cleaners and total cleaning time is about 5 hours per day including corridors and common areas,” the operations head said.

Special attention

As expected, some areas require added attention.

“We spend most time cleaning the areas with younger children, especially in the Early Years as they are generally a bit messier and tend to touch more things. We have [also] reduced the number of toys where possible in these areas to minimise contact surfaces,” Neethling said.

“We are also paying special attention to common areas, handrails and doorknobs ensuring they are cleaned and disinfected after each break and between classes as these can be high volume/traffic areas,” he added.

Buses are also cleaned twice per day, in accordance with requirements by transport regulator, the Integrated Transport Centre

Cleaning staff at Raha International School, Abu Dhabi
Cleaning staff at Raha International School, Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Supplied picture

Individual precautions

Meanwhile, students are reminded to wash their hands frequently, especially upon arrival in the classroom, before and after breaks, and after using the bathroom.

Raha International is operated by education provider, Taaleem, and Neethling said infection control measures, such as enhanced cleaning and hand sanitisation, have been stepped up across all schools in the group.

The Adek has also called for two individual measures to keep students and staff safe: frequent handwashing and sanitisation, especially after touching surfaces, and keeping an eye out for signs of high fever, cough and flu. In case these symptoms are noted, parents are urged to tend to children atr home, and get them tested at a medical facility if in doubt.

Adek precautions against Covid-19

Students, faculty and relatives returning from China must stay home for a period of 14 days and get tested for Covid-19 before returning to school.

School leadership and staff must remain aware, and official material on precautionary measures must be shared with students and parents.

School nurses and medical staff have been trained on how to handle suspected cases, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Department of Health.

Buses must also ensure cleaning and disinfection to safeguard against the novel coronavirus.

Nursery operations have been suspended to protect young children, who may be sensitive to chemicals used in the rigorous cleaning proocols.

All local and international school trips, mass gatherings such as events and conferences, and swimming activities, have been suspended to reduce chances of infection amongst students and staff.

Morning assemblies have been suspended and school break times must be staggered to control mass gatherings of students.

Schools must also monitor all staff and students to ensure that anyone showing symptoms stay home to reduce the possibility of transmission.

Schools must fully commit to stringent and intensified cleaning protocols.