BASIC Education Minister Angie Motshekga is racing to control the coronavirus outbreak at schools in the Eastern Cape after 204 learners and hostel assistants tested positive at Makaula Secondary School in KwaBhaca, providing government with the biggest challenge since the reopening of schools in early June.
While Motshekga is fanning out over the boarding school premises and hostels and visiting surrounding neighbourhoods to question residents on whether they’ve been in contact with anyone who’s visited the school, the South African Democratic Teachers Union has called on the Department of Education to shut down all schools in the Eastern Cape as a precautionary measure.
“We call upon our Eastern Cape department of education to close the schools with immediate effect until the department is ready, as life matters to most of us,” the teachers’ union wrote in the letter signed by its provincial secretary, Chris Mdingi.
“There are perpetual challenges of ablution facilities, personal protection equipment [PPE], water supply and water tanks and non-availability of health officials as promised.”
SADTU said it was deeply concerned about shortages of personal protection equipment (PPEs) and water supplies at various schools in the Eastern Cape.
In a letter, Mdingi said SADTU is demanding the following at all schools in the Eastern Cape:
- That Grade 12 final exam question papers be reviewed in the light of the circumstances;
- That pupils and teachers start receiving the psychosocial support promised by the department; and
- That reliable thermometers are made available at all schools.
On Tuesday evening, Motshekga confirmed that 204 learners and hostel assistants were infected at the school, adding that the department was working together with the Eastern Cape’s Department of Health to support the learners, educators and parents affected by the coronavirus.
Motshekga urged members of the community to desist from visiting schools as that also increased the risk for more infections.
“We will continue to work hard in schools to make sure that we protect our learners, teachers and employees within schools. It is important to work together to ensure that we beat the virus,” she said, adding that the department is working hard to make sure that all schools are COVID-19 compliant before it can receive learners.
“What is also important is to ensure that even during schools hours and beyond we stick to the basic requirements of wearing the mask, sanitize, wash hands and keep physical distancing.”
Motshekga said the confirmed COVID-19 cases were picked up as a result of the stringent measures put in place in all schools to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Eastern Cape health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the department has deployed a team of doctors and tracers to the Makaula Secondary School.
Kupelo also said Department of Health was looking into possibly converting the hostel into an isolation facility as another measure of preventing the further spread of the coronavirus.
“This is so that those who came into contact with the 204 people who have tested positive can be traced, screened and tested so that we stop the spread of the virus. A team of clinicians have been sent to the school to ascertain if the hostel meets the Department’s minimum standards for quarantine and isolation facilities, which include, but not limited to lighting, well ventilated rooms and sanitation services,” said Kupelo.
“Those that have tested positive are in isolation within the Alfred Nzo District Municipal area. Initially 24 learners tested positive last week with 180 others, which include hostel assistants testing positive this week. We would like to call on everyone to continue adhering to the lockdown regulations by practicing good personal hygiene by washing their hands with soap and water or sanitiser regularly, keeping at least a 1.2 metre distance between them and other people, wearing mask at all times when out in public and if possible, stay at home.”
The reopening of schools in the Eastern Cape has been dealt with mixed reaction from unions, parents and educational NGOs.
The bone of contention has been complying with COVID-19 safety precautions that include the constant washing of hands, donning of face masks and social distancing as the nature of schooling environment is open to cluster outbreaks of the virus.
Motshekga has been intensely criticised for allowing the resumption of teaching and learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Eastern Cape has the second number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country behind the Western Cape.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, who attended the opening of a field hospital in the province on Tuesday, said the country is moving into a devastating storm with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our testing strategy has enabled us to complete over 1.2 million tests in just under four months. We’ve been able to implement a strategy to effectively deal with each area. We’ll focus on the Eastern Cape and Gauteng after moving from the Western Cape, prioritising the elderly, the vulnerable and those with symptoms,” said Mkhize at the VW Manufacturing Plant in the Eastern Cape to open a 3 300 bed capacity field hospital.
“We then resolved to embark on what is called the differentiated approach. Now that we have reduced the restrictions and started opening up, we are seeing that the numbers have started to increase. We are moving towards a devastating, decimating storm. There was no way we could keep a perpetual lockdown forever.”
(Compiled by Inside Politics staff)