Sunday, 13 December 2020

SCHOOLS CLOSE EARLY OVER COVID-19 FEARS

 Several schools across the country have already closed on their own, well ahead of the December 18 official closing day, as confusion reigns over the government’s response to a resurgence in Covid-19 cases.

A mini survey by this publication revealed that a number of private schools had effectively ended the third term on Friday with some reverting back to online lessons that were introduced during the prolonged school break early this year due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

One of Bulawayo’s top schools said in a letter to parents that it had decided to release learners on December 11 “because of the increase in the number of teachers, who are self-isolating at home after experiencing flu-like symptoms since 30 November”.

The school also said it was taking precautionary measures “because of the rapid increase in Covid-19 positive cases nationwide, and in particular the City of Bulawayo, especially after the reopening of our borders with South Africa (a regional hotspot of the pandemic) and many other countries in the region”.

There was also a drastic fall in the number of students coming to school since December as parents opted to keep their children at home as a risk mitigation measure, the school said.

Another private school in the city said although it would shut its doors on Wednesday, reopening dates were not yet clear given the resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

The government says schools will reopen on January 4 despite concerns that Zimbabwe might witness a spike in Covid-19 cases around that time as there was likely to be increased travel during the festive season.

According to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) situation report dated December 4, Zimbabwe has had Covid-19 outbreaks in nine high schools and universities contributing to the increased number of cases in Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Midlands, Mashonaland West and Mashonaland East.

Ocha said children of school-going age (five to 19 years) accounted for 7,6% of all the confirmed cases.

It also warned that the cases would likely rise with the coming of the festive season and the reopening of borders. As many as 400 students have tested positive for Covid-19 since schools reopened in October.

Among the affected schools are John Tallach High School in Matabeleland North where over 150 students tested positive, Waddlilove and Goromonzi high schools in Mashonaland East as well as Chinhoyi High School in Mashonaland West.

According to official accounts, the outbreak at one of the schools was blamed on pupils who had travelled to South Africa, the epicentre of the pandemic in southern Africa, and teacher unions fear the worst when schools reopen after Christmas.

“We need a holistic approach to this problem we face after the festive season. People will be travelling, some going out of the country and returning back untested through our porous borders increasing the infection,” Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said yesterday.

“The (Education) ministry must put in place mechanisms for the testing of all pupils when schools open in January otherwise we are in for a rude awakening. 

“We are saying let us go back to the drawing board and see what is best for our kids, education and the country as a whole because the movement of people during this period will bring tragic consequences for many lives.”

Taungana Ndoro, the director of communication in the Primary and Secondary Education ministry, said the government would continue to intensify its prevention and management of Covid-19 when schools reopen.

“These standard operating procedures have worked very efficiently during a phased calendar in which many schools were able to detect early any cases of Covid-19 and manage them accordingly,” Ndoro said.

“Therefore, the same modus operandi will be used when schools reopen, and the plan is that the ministry intensifies the adherence to these standard operating procedures.”

Obert Masaraure, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president, said: “The government should invest in resources for mass testing of all learners and teachers ahead of schools opening.

“Testing should not be once-off, but regular because these people will be interacting with society.

“Government should also invest in enhancing social distancing in our schools.”

Zimbabwe national Covid-19 chief coordinator Agnes Mahomva said there was nothing much that could be done other than urging fellow countrymen to be responsible by observing guidelines aimed at preventing infection.

“Let’s do it ourselves and not look for others (government) to do something for us. “It is really the prevention that is important more than anything else,” Mahomva told The Standard.

“Firstly, we discourage people from travelling unless necessary.

“We are also encouraging the public, teachers, learners and parents to be responsible to protect themselves and others from infection. With regard to schools reopening, we have guidelines in place.

“We will follow those guidelines. The only challenge we have is when we don’t follow those guidelines.

“The guidelines are in place and have been strengthened from lessons learnt after the outbreak at some schools.”

As of yesterday, the country had 11 219 confirmed coronavirus cases and 307 deaths. Standard

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