Health experts want schools closed over Covid-19 



Mugove Tafirenyika 



HEALTH experts want the government to close all schools to prevent a second Covid-19 wave from spreading after 100 students at a single institution tested positive recently, the Daily News reports. 

This comes as the government closed down John Tallach Secondary in Matabeleland North on Monday following a Covid-19 outbreak at the school.

Despite the high number of cases at the school, Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, who is also the chairperson of the national Covid-19 taskforce, told a post-Cabinet media briefing on Tuesday that not all schools would be closed or a new strict lockdown imposed.

She said the government would study scientific data first before making rushed decisions.

With the government making its position on schools clear, health experts say it is a misinformed stance since the health delivery system was not adequately prepared to deal with large scale cases.

“It is our considered view that 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 can always pick up from there,” Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo told the Daily News in an interview yesterday.

Dongo said health authorities should concentrate on taking preventive measures not only in schools, but countrywide ostensibly because chances are high the number of asymptomatic cases was higher than what is 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 the hot weather we are 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.

“The situation 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 wearing masks, social distancing and mass testing of citizens,” Dongo added.

Senior Hospital Doctors Association president Shingai Nyaguse concurred, saying the government should subject all school children to testing to reach 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 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, masks and hand washing.

“Surveillance needs to do follow-up inspections and ensure that the recommendations are actually being implemented. We call upon the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to do more school inspections as soon as possible and give recommendations,” Nyaguse said.

Responding to MPs’ questions in the National Assembly yesterday on why the government had insisted on reopening schools when it was ill-prepared and what measures it had put in place to ensure learners were tested, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the ministry of Health was taking care of that.“Regarding the writing of examinations, the government cannot insist on students writing examinations where there is a clear danger. However, the position is that we cannot ask children to stay at home forever because nobody knows when this pandemic will end. We have said they have to adapt to the new normal just like everyone else,” Ziyambi said

Speaking during Tuesday’s post-Cabinet briefing, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the government was on high alert in schools. “To ensure that schools do not become flashpoints for the spread of Covid-19, Cabinet resolved that where cases are suspected in schools without adequate testing facilities, these schools should be closed immediately to allow for testing of all pupils and only those who test negative should return to school. Schools with adequate facilities may continue lessons while testing proceeds and those who test positive are excluded. To guard against a second wave of Covid-19, the government through the ministry of Health and Child Care, is strengthening surveillance and health information management to ensure an efficient and effective system to counter such an eventuality. Furthermore, awareness campaigns will focus on community engagement using community leaders with support from sub-national structures to foster community responsibility and enforce Covid-19 preventative and precautionary measures,” Mutsvangwa said.

Since Zimbabwe reported its first Covid-19 case in March, it has recorded at least 260 deaths from more than 8 940 cases.

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