Tens of thousands of students returned to school in Shanghai and Beijing on Monday (April 27) after months of closures intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus, as China's major cities gradually return to normality.
Shanghai students in their final year of middle and high school returned to classrooms, while only high-school seniors in Beijing were allowed back on campus to prepare for the all-important "gaokao" university entrance exam.
China has largely curbed the spread of the deadly disease, but is still on high alert, with growing fears of imported cases and a second wave of domestic infections in the north-east.
Teenager Meng Xianghao said he was taking extra precautions on his first day back at Beijing's Chenjinglun High School.
"I brought masks, garbage bags and disinfectant," Meng, who had just taken the subway for the first time in months, told AFP.
"I'm glad, it's been too long since I've seen my classmates," said 18-year-old student Hang Huan. "I've missed them a lot."
Across the country, schools that have been closed or online-only since January began gradually reopening last month, while the hardest-hit Wuhan is set to reopen its high schools on May 6.
Students in the capital will have their temperatures measured at school gates and must show a "green" health code on a special app that calculates a person's infection risk, according to China's Ministry of Education.
The ministry said some schools in Beijing had rehearsed the reopening with mock "students" in advance.
Footage from Beijing Daily showed some of the city's 49,000 high-school seniors in classrooms on Monday, wearing masks at desks which were spaced evenly apart as teachers welcomed them back with speeches.
In some cafeterias, students are assigned fixed seating spots spaced at least 1m apart.
Beijing still has strict measures in place to prevent a fresh outbreak, requiring visitors to the city to pass stringent testing requirements.
In Shanghai, some schools have set aside special rooms for isolating students with "abnormal temperatures", the ministry said.
Beijing student Xiao Shuhan told AFP he thought some form of social distancing would continue even as classmates and friends reunite.
"We'll no longer put our arms around each other's shoulders," he said.
"At school, there's a certain atmosphere for learning and at home, there is not," said Wang Yuchen, a 17-year-old student.
China said in March that it would postpone the exams by one month to July this year.
The estimated intensive classes resumption in May will be a big test for education authorities,
Wang underscored that schools are allowed to resume operation only when the epidemic is basically controlled and the epidemic prevention measures are adopted to protect the health of teachers and students on campus.
The Ministry of Education also required schools to roll out contingency plans to cope with the risk of virus transmission before resuming classes, Wang said, noting that some schools are devising emergency response plans, demanding special vehicles to transfer people with symptoms including fever and cough or confirmed COVID-19 cases to hospitals.