BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/PATRICIA SIBANDA
WITH less than two weeks into the second term, a fresh COVID-19 scare has hit some schools amid fears that the respiratory disease could be spreading from neighbouring South Africa currently reeling under the fifth wave.
Statistics from the Health ministry show that COVID-19 cases have been on the rise in the past two weeks with the seven-day rolling average increasing to 86 on Monday, from 63 recorded on Sunday.
During a post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said: “There is need to closely monitor the situation in schools before allowing the resumption of sporting activities in these institutions. The reopening of schools and the onset of winter is usually associated with a rise in new cases.”
Government recently said it would tighten COVID-19 regulations again, especially at the country’s borders, following a spike in new cases being recorded in South Africa.
On Monday, 184 new cases and three deaths were recorded, with schools in Matabeleland North and South provinces accounting for 45 of the new infections.
However, teachers’ representatives yesterday told NewsDay that the figures could be understated because most schools have limited testing capacity.
Bulawayo City Council (BCC) said the number of COVID-19 cases recorded at schools had risen to two since last Friday.
BCC health services director Edwin Sibanda said: “There are two new cases from institutions of learning and these are both from secondary schools, one from Westgate College and another from Townsend High School as at yesterday (Monday).”
Health ministry secretary Jasper Chimedza and Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson Taungana Ndoro were not reachable for comment.
School authorities urged the government to improve testing capacity at learning institutions facilitate early detection and to combat the spread of the pandemic among pupils.
“The challenge is school authorities and teachers have diverted their focus from the issue of COVID-19,” Zimbabwe National Union of School Heads secretary-general Munyaradzi Majoni said.
“Most are concentrating on the issue of remuneration and the issue of COVID-19 is just an afterthought, hence, if not addressed with urgency, it is just a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.”
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said: “The classes are full and there is no testing or social distancing. School heads cannot turn away pupils who do not have face masks. Some schools cannot even afford sanitisers. Water remains a major challenge in most schools. I have heard of a class with over 81 pupils. The challenge is that there has not been dialogue between the teachers and the ministry since schools opened to deliberate on the way forward.”
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said: “We are currently concerned about the rise in new COVID-19 cases, especially in schools and the possibility of yet another wave of infections which might increase cases of hospitalisation and even deaths due to the looming winter season and the emergence of new variants as well as the increased public gatherings.”
He said testing was essential as it allowed for isolation of cases and enhanced provision of targeted care to those affected.
“To limit the further spread of COVID-19, government must expand diagnostics capacity — with a focus on convenient, efficient and affordable testing,” Rusike said.