TEACHERS unions and school heads yesterday warned that it would be “suicidal” for government to allow schools to reopen for the second term next week at a time when the country is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections, putting learners and teachers at risk of contracting the virus.
Zimbabwe is in the throes of the third wave of COVID-19 infections, with new cases and deaths rising sharply in a fortnight, forcing government to impose localised lockdowns in Kwekwe, Hurungwe, Karoi and Kariba where the Indian variant was detected.
On Sunday, six deaths and 151 new COVID-19 cases were recorded, in addition to the 10 deaths and 293 cases recorded on Saturday. On Friday, 408 new cases were recorded, while the number of people that have succumbed to the virus since last week is nearly 50, an average of five people dying daily.
Kushinga Phikelela Polytechnic outside Marondera was closed yesterday after 16 students and lecturers tested positive from tests conducted last Friday and health authorities cordoned off the institution.
Students and lecturers, who reside at the learning institution, are not allowed to leave the premises.
“The last communication I had with the provincial medical director is that after some testing was done on students and lecturers, 16 tested positive to the virus,” Marondera district development co-ordinator Clemence Masawi said yesterday.
School heads and teachers unions pleaded with government to postpone the opening of schools to August, saying current measures were inadequate to protect learners and teachers.
“We suggest that all schools remain closed throughout the winter season and consider reopening when it is warmer and relatively safer. That should be around mid-August,” Zimbabwe National Union of School Heads president John Muzamani said.
“When the time to reopen schools comes, the government needs to consider reopening first those schools in districts that would not be under localised lockdown. Those schools in hotspots need to remain closed and be opened on a case-by-case basis and under strict monitoring. Testing and vaccinating of teachers must be done first every time a school reopens.”
Muzamani said schools should be treated as separate entities, such that if a school has recorded COVID-19 cases, government should close it and put it under surveillance until the situation returns to normal.
Zimbabwe Teachers Union secretary-general Goodwill Taderera said: “I am afraid, teachers have died and opening schools is tantamount to taking teachers into theatre. It looks like prevalence is high in higher learning institutions and high schools; a deliberate testing might actually reveal a time bomb.”
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said schools had inadequate sanitisers and testing kits to ensure safety when they open next week.
“There are no sanitisers; the situation on the ground is that teachers are vulnerable, kids are coming from everywhere and are not being tested, and if we open schools without taking full cognisance of the realities on the ground, we could actually be walking into a COVID-19 minefield and cause problems for our country,” Majongwe said.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure added: “The biggest threat to opening of schools on June 28 is teacher incapacitation. The spread of COVID-19 will be uncontrollable in the absence of teachers.
“Blanket opening of schools will be suicidal, given the lack of preparedness for schools to adhere to standard operating procedures. Our schools are potential super-spreaders. We may risk the lives of the adult population which cohabits with learners of school-going age,” Masaraure said.
“However, we have areas where no cases of COVID-19 have been reported, with a properly devolved education management system, such areas could afford to open. It is also unfortunate that outside the COVID-19 scare teachers are still incapacitated and won’t be able to report for duty to monitor children.”
Primary and Secondary Education ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro said there were currently no plans to change the opening dates for schools. “As of today, there is no directive to the contrary. If there are any adjustments to the school calendar, the government will announce,” Ndoro told NewsDay.
The country has targeted to vaccinate 60% of its population, about 10 million people to achieve herd immunity. However, only 432 572 people, nearly 3% of the population, has been fully vaccinated while 701 348 had received the first jab by June 19, 2021.