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Panic strikes Zimbabwe schools

by Staff reporter
21 Nov 2020 at 22:16hrs | Views
PANIC has gripped the country's education sector as schools and other learning institutions battle to deal with the lethal coronavirus, amid fears of a second wave of the pandemic, the Daily News reports.

After 100 pupils tested positive for Covid-19 at John Tallach Secondary School in Matabeleland North on Monday, there are fears that the virus may now also be a major issue at a number of schools in Harare.

At the same time, it was said that Midlands State University and Chinhoyi University of Technology were contemplating closing after a number of Covid-19 cases were apparently recorded there.

The director of communications in the ministry of Primary and Secondary Educa- tion, Taungana Ndoro, told the Daily News yesterday that the government was particularly worried about the "alarming" number of cases at John Tallach.

"It is certainly a cause for concern for the whole nation because the number of cases at John Tallach is alarming, hence we have instructed all school authorities to intensify adherence to our standard operation procedures.

"As I speak, I am in Mashonaland West Province and I have not heard any reports of cases here," he said.

Ndoro said investigations by the ministry had shown that authorities at Prince Edward High School inHarare had no reason to panic on account of the deadly disease.

"When Vice President Constantino Chiwenga spoke in Bulawayo, some people thought he was confirming that there were confirmed cases at the school. He was misquoted.

"What he simply said was that the ministry of Health was investigating suspected cases and the results of the investigation showed that the pupils were negative. There are no cases at the school and it is currently open as we speak," he said.

Still, the president of the National Association of Secondary School Heads, Arthur Maphosa, told theDaily News that school authorities countrywide were in a state of distress.

"Almost everyone is apprehensive after the cases we are hearing about from Bulawayo and Harare.

"What makes the situation even more uneasy is the fact that most schools are not yet fully operational, as teachers are still coming back after the salary arrangement they have just had with the government," he said.

The secretary-general of the National Association of Primary School Heads (Naph), Kufakunesu Rupere, said the fact that there was inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) at schools made the situation worse.

"We are in real danger and we don't know what to do with the kids.

There are infants at schools who need maximum attention but who would want to take the risk when they have no PPE?

"It is a difficult situation that we find ourselves in as school heads.

Our families have been exposed too because we go back home after school without being tested - hence our statuses are not known.

"We only hope authorities will urgently intervene," Rupere said.

Teachers have been on strike since September when the first phase of in-class schooling started, as they demanded better working conditions.

With the rest of learners starting the third and final phase, the number of pupils per school has also increased - leaving headmasters overwhelmed.

The situation has been compounded by the fact that classes have been decongested to ensure social distancing, meaning that even when the teachers eventually go back to work there will still be shortages.

This comes as health experts have warned that the government could struggle to contain the second Covid-19 wave if schools are not closed immediately, following the John Tallach incident.

Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo told the Daily News in an interview on Wednesday that it would be foolhardy for authorities to keep children at schools as the country's health delivery system is "not adequately prepared to deal with a situation where the number of cases increases like it is likely to do".

"It is our considered view that as a nation we would rather have children sitting at home than for them to die of Covid-19 in the name of education.

"The children can afford to lose one year of learning and they can always pick up from there," Dongo said - adding that the government should concentrate on taking preventive measures countrywide, as the chances were high that the number of asymptomatic cases was higher than was being presented.

"The government must admit the situation does not look good if we take into consideration what is happening in the southern parts of the country.

"What is clear is that the reason why not many people are showing symptoms is not because there are no infections, but a possible result of the hot weather we are currently experiencing.

"With the impending rainy season that will be followed by winter, the symptoms are certainly going to show and I can assure you it is going to be a disaster.

"However, the situation in the country has become complicated because both the government and its citizens have become complacent.

"Nobody seems to care about the pandemic anymore as evidenced by the government's inaction on enforcing regulations prescribed by the World Health Organisation regarding putting on masks, social distancing and mass testing of citizens," Dongo said.

The president of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association, Shingai Nyaguse, concurred saying the government should subject all school children to testing, to arrive at an informed decision.

"If schools do not have adequate personal protective equipment for learners, as is the case now, and are unable to appropriately distance the children, then the government policy on keeping them open needs to be revisited.

"We urge proper epidemiological surveillance studies to find out the cause of the outbreak. People seem to be slackening on preventive measures of physical distancing, wearing of masks and hand washing. We call upon the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to do more school inspections as soon as possible and give recommendations," Nyaguse said.

Source - dailynews