SHANGHAI: At Shanghai High School, masks and social distancing have muted the adolescent buzz, classmates talk through glass in the canteen, and graduation ceremonies remain in doubt.

As schools in COVID-19-hit countries worldwide ponder how the pandemic will alter campus life, China's phased reopening of in-person classes points to a radically different atmosphere.

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Students in a number of cities including Shanghai and Beijing began returning to classes in late April, starting with high schoolers.

But on the leafy grounds of Shanghai High, one of the huge metropolis's top secondary schools, reminders of the coronavirus and ways of preventing its spread are around every corner.

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At Shanghai High, reminders of the virus and ways of preventing its spread are around every corner. (Photo: AFP/Hector RETAMAL)

In lieu of the rowdy rush of students entering campus each morning, they file in one at a time, their images appearing on a giant TV screen along with their temperature.

The same applies for entry into some instruction halls. Footprint decals on the ground offer guidance on social distancing and face masks are mandatory.

Although lunch is brought to students in classrooms in a crowd-reducing move, dinner for the school's hundreds of dormitory-dwelling students is served in the canteen.

But glass shields have been installed on dining tables to wall students off from each other, and signs urge them to "minimise interaction and concentrate on eating".

But despite the sobering new realities, headmaster Feng Zhigang said resuming classes was necessary for kids who were cut off from classrooms for three months and cooped up at home pursuing online learning.

Shanghai High headmaster Feng Zhigang said resuming classes was necessary for kids who were cut off from classrooms for three months and cooped up at home pursuing online learning. (Photo: AFP/Hector RETAMAL)

"It (resuming classes) is a responsible action, not only for children's studies, but also for their physical and mental health," said Feng during a media tour of the 155-year-old school.

"Besides, (at home) there is a lack of social activities so long-term online lessons more or less will bring some problems."

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So far so good on that front, Feng added, but some students were "fretful" about the fearsome pandemic, prompting increased "communication" with their instructors.

The school's seniors returned first on April 27, with younger students following suit this week.

Shanghai plans to begin bringing the upper-level primary school grades back in on May 18.

The form that graduation ceremonies will take is a quandary for schools worldwide, and Shanghai High is no exception.

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