Zimbabwe ill-prepared for schools reopening in middle of Covid-19: union

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HARARE – Opening schools now will turn them into “high infection zones”, Zimbabwe’s biggest teachers’ union warned on Tuesday.

The Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) says the government has no clear plan to protect pupils from catching the respiratory illness which has killed over 319,000 people worldwide since an outbreak was reported in China last December.

Zimbabwe has 46 confirmed cases including four deaths and 18 recoveries.

Zimbabwe closed schools two weeks early in March, before a lockdown was imposed from March 30 to curb the spread of the virus. But President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in an address to the nation last Saturday, said the government was easing the lockdown measures and is considering a phased re-opening of schools, starting with Grade 7, Form 4 and Upper Sixth classes as well as universities for final year students who are sitting exams this year.

In a statement, the union said not only children will be exposed, but teachers also fear for their lives.

“Re-opening of schools whilst hordes of people from the diaspora are being brought in from Covid-19 infested regions might be just as good as opening a Pandora’s box,” ZIMTA said.

“Sadly, this announcement is in direct conflict with the situation obtaining on the ground where schools are being used as Covid-19 quarantine centres. This raises the simple question, where are these classes expected to be carried out if these institutions are being used as quarantine centres?”

ZIMTA said there was conflict between the set-up of Zimbabwean schools and World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

Average classes have a teacher-to-pupil ratio of about 1:60, and according to ZIMTA such a large class cannot ensure effective social distancing.

“Without effective social distancing in schools, these institutions will easily turn into high infection zones with catastrophic results,” ZIMTA said.

Among other things, ZIMTA also raised concerns over Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) in schools.

The statement went on: “Looking at the way the government has handled industry by merely giving instruction without the financial backing with regards to the issue of testing employees, this leaves a lot to be desired.

“Schools, most of which have dried-up coffers, are in no position to avail PPEs to educators and pupils, leaving this burden in the hands of the government.”

ZIMTA fears the government wants to transfer the burden of PPEs to hard-pressed parents, ignoring that the extended lockdown has left most households poorer than before.

The union is recommending that before schools re-open, teachers need to be trained in effectively and safely handling themselves as well as their students to prevent infection. – ZimLive