Tuesday 9 March 2021



PARENTS and teachers feared for the worst and learners were in panic mode after 170 Covid-19 cases were recorded at John Tallach High School in Ntabazinuna, Matabeleland North, late last year.

For weeks, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland-run school battled the virus but after four weeks, a success story emerged as there were no fatalities, signifying a 100 percent recovery rate.

The agonising story started on November 9 last year when schools reopened for Form One and Two classes. This was after five girls, including a majority of their contacts, tested positive prompting school authorities to institute mass testing for everyone.

When results came out, 166 learners and four teachers tested positive, marking the beginning of a traumatising journey for parents, teachers and the affected pupils. Parents and teachers feared for the worst and learners were in panic mode.

However, four weeks down the line, the script read differently as the school managed to beat the virus. Thanks to timeous intervention by both health and school authorities who managed to contain the health crisis.

Chronicle yesterday caught up with John Tallach High School headmaster Mr Bonakele Ncube to share their success story in defeating Covid-19 at the school.

“We had opened on September 17 for the examination classes since we also offer Cambridge Examinations.

Everything was going on well until the first day of opening for Form One and Two classes on November 9 when we had first cases of Covid-19,” he said.

“As we were conducting routine temperature checks, five girls had high temperatures and we immediately informed the environmental health technician before subsequently isolating them.”

Mr Ncube said early detection, alerting the health authorities on time and adherence to World Health Organisation (WHO) and national Covid-19 protocols helped the school to contain the situation.

“Regular temperature checks, which we did every morning really helped us in the early detection of cases. The environmental health technician quickly organised health personnel from Nyamandlovu District Hospital and they came and took the five girls for testing. After that we were informed that four had tested positive,” he said.

Mr Ncube said they then decided to extend the testing to the four girls’ dormitory and classmates and a majority of them tested positive. “This forced us to test the whole school and that is when we had more cases of positive results,” he added. A satellite clinic was immediately set up at the school by Nyamandlovu District Hospital to assist in monitoring the cases.. Mr Ncube said they immediately suspended school lessons and learners were put into categorised groups to curb the spread of the virus.

“We created four groups comprising of those who had tested positive, those showing symptoms and those who had tested negative and finally those who were looking well but had not been tested. The whole school was divided into these different groups,” he said.

“It was now a mammoth task for us to separately deal with groups comprising of 700 pupils and the major challenge was the dining hall. We had to stagger them according to their statuses.”

Mr Ncube said those who had tested positive were quarantined at a separate hostel where they had their meals.

“The first to come to the dining hall were those negative followed by those asymptomatic and lastly those with symptoms. Our ancillary staff had to work round the clock, particularly at the dining hall. You can imagine serving meals to 700 pupils in different batches and times and the school was literally declared a quarantine zone,” he said.

In line with WHO health guidelines, no one was allowed to either enter or leave the school yard after the Government turned the institution into an official quarantine and isolation centre following an outbreak of coronavirus. Environmental health technicians and ancillary staff had to thoroughly disinfect the entire school daily.

Food supplies were delivered at the gate with the School Development Committee (SDC) being the sole link between the school and the outside world.

“The SDC, particularly their secretary, really played a crucial role of being the liaison officer or linkman between the school and the outside world. Any deliveries from the city to the school, he would be the one doing the errands. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, health authorities and the SDC played a crucial role and gave us all the necessary moral and financial support,” said Mr Ncube.

He said school authorities endured immense pressure from restless parents who feared for their children.

Mr Ncube said they had to constantly offer psychological support and counselling to the traumatised leaners, particularly those isolated.

“The situation was well managed and mostly importantly, when dealing with Covid-19 cases, you should not lose focus and soliciting for assistance from well-wishers is also critical. Learners need to understand why they are being quarantined and as teachers we had to give them assurance that they are not outcasts, but rather undergoing a recovery process before rejoining their peers,” he said.

“If that is not addressed, learners might feel as outcasts. There has to be consistent monitoring of the affected groups especially by the health personnel. If they see nurses coming to them, checking their temperatures and monitoring them it really boosts their morale.”

Mr Ncube said former pupils, parents, well-wishers and several other stakeholders were supportive.

“There has to be joint efforts from parents, school authorities and well-wishers and other stakeholders. School authorities should remain calm and it is very important because parents will be panicking and that helps, despite immense pressure. You can imagine over 700 parents or guardians each wanting to know the fate of their child,” he said.

Mr Ncube said the fact that no one was seriously ill helped boost their confidence.

“We are a christian organisation and above all we trusted in God as the protector of mankind. We feared for the worst, but we managed to contain the situation and health authorities played a crucial role because even those who were asymptomatic were assisted before anything could happen,” he said.

“Being proactive is what really saved us. Initially, when this whole thing started pupils were apprehensive but later on, they were no longer afraid, such that they would even voluntarily offer to be tested. Most of learners were asymptomatic and never showed signs of being sick. We gave them medical attention and they receive vitamins, medication, fruits to boost their immune system.”

The learners and the teachers who tested positive spent 28 days in quarantine and there was a strict register which was kept for everyone at school.

“Those who were negative were joined by those released after fishing quarantine. By the time we closed we have no cases because everyone had been discharged from the isolation bay,” said Mr Ncube.  Chronicle


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