With schools set to reopen on March 2 unless the government again postpones it, Nguyen Thanh Son, 34, of Hanoi's Long Bien District is looking forward to sending his six-year-old daughter to school.
"I know it is a tough call for the authorities, but kids should revert to their normal lives and so should their parents," he said.
For the last four weeks he had sent his daughter to his sister's house while he and his wife went to work.
The child, who had been initially excited about the extended break, is now longing to see her teachers and friends.
But Son’s wife will have nothing of it and insists on keeping her daughter at home because "the virus is still around."
Similar scenes are playing out all over the country as people are sharply divided on how long they should keep their children at home amid the Covid-19 epidemic, which forced educational authorities to close schools in February and made it difficult for people to take care of their children.
On Thursday the Ministry of Education and Training said schools could close for two more weeks, but education authorities in most provinces have yet to announce a final decision.
Many parents cannot wait for schools to open since the end of the unexpected long break will put an end to the month-long upheaval in their daily routine.
Tran Thuy Chi, an accountant living in Ho Chi Minh City's Phu Nhuan District, has struggled with her nine-year-old son. She had sent him to her mother's house in Long An Province for a week after the Lunar New Year break (from January 23-26).
"He cried every night, saying his misses my husband and me, and I had to bring him home," the 40-year-old said with a sigh.
She and An, her husband, have been taking turns to stay at home and take care of him, which has affected their finances, she said.
They both hope their son's school will open at the earliest. She said it should be safe to send kids to school since all 16 Covid-19 patients in Vietnam have recovered.
Most parents do not know what to do with their bored children who cannot go out because of the infection fears.
Some educational institutions have resorted to online classes, but this has limitations due to the lack of Internet access and the need for great self-motivation among children.
"The unexpected break has made them (children) forget their studies," hotelier Nguyen Quang of Hanoi said, adding he could not take his daughter anywhere either because the virus threat still loomed.
The current break would force students to go to school in summer, which is normally "too hot" for any activity, he lamented.
A number of people insisted that the extended break was unnecessary since Vietnam has had no deaths from Covid-19.
"Just tell the kids about preventive measures and make sure the schools are cleaned, and they will be safe," Ta Quang Van, who works for a paper company in Hanoi, said.
Phan Trong Lan, head of the HCMC Pasteur Institute, concurred saying it would be safer for children at school.
Nguyen Minh Thuyet, head of the National Assembly’s Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children, was also in favour of letting children return to school because closing them while the epidemic was under control "may send a wrong signal about the disease, confusing the public."
Besides, the long break could affect students’ mental health and their parents’ jobs as well as society, he said.
Butterflies in stomach
Not believing that the epidemic is over, especially with South Korea being severely hit by the virus and a huge number of Koreans living in Vietnam, many people in Hanoi and HCMC insist on keeping their children at home for a bit longer.
"Even if they open the school next week, of course I will keep my daughter at home; she is only 6," Tran Hoa My, a lecturer at a HCMC university, said.
"They say the situation is under control, but it does not mean the virus is eliminated and the kids face no risk." She supports the ministry proposal to close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks.
Knowing that her 15-year-old son may have to return to school next week, Truong Anh Dao, 47, spoke to the parents of some other children in his class at Nguyen Trai High School, and they all wondered who could guarantee that students or their family members have not had contact with infected people.
Children should only go to school when it is safe and parents feel at ease, Dao said though her son, Viet, complains about missing his friends.
The parents of some of Viet's classmates said they would decide when their children would return to school and not the authorities.
In HCMC, Bui Thi Kim Anh, 42, has taken a similar stand. "Thousands of kids in a school and who knows if some of them had contact with South Koreans."
Huynh Thanh Phu, principal of Nguyen Du High School in the city’s District 10, said: "We are ready for students to return. But we cannot deny that we are also nervous and afraid."
Nguyen Vinh Hien, a former deputy education minister, does not feel it is safe to send children to school.
Though the epidemic is under control, it is still a threat and authorities should consider letting students stay at home in March if necessary, he said.
As of Friday the decision to reopen in many provinces and cities is still up in the air.
While some people believe that the situation is good enough for their children to go to school, others are not convinced.
"What is worse: the fact the virus may kill you or that the long break is boring?" Dao asked her son, who is happy his school might open next week.
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