BY VANESSA GUZHA
ZIMBABWE is set for a fresh and unprecedented rise in new COVID-19 infections and deaths in the near future amid reports that only 5% of the country’s estimated 140 000 teachers in public schools were vaccinated, a top medical expert warned yesterday.
Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Solwayo Ngwenya , whose predictions on deadly COVID-19 waves based on scientific analysis and the situation on the ground have come to pass, said Zimbabweans should remain focused as the “signals were showing terrible danger ahead”.
“Coronavirus: to all my close relatives, few friends, and close ardent followers I don’t know how to reach you without causing alarm to the faint-hearted, but things look bleak ahead,” he posted on his Twitter handle.
“May you all remain focused on the virus wherever you are? The signals show terrible danger ahead.”
The last crippling COVID-19 wave was fuelled by the opening of schools without adequate preparation, according to experts, and government has done it again after opening schools for examination classes on Monday.
The rest of the learners will be back in school on Monday next week.
Teacher unions yesterday said it was clear that the health and safety of teachers and pupils, let alone their welfare, was not a priority to the Primary and Secondary Education ministry and government.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said if the welfare of teachers and pupils was important, there could have been concerted efforts to decentralise the vaccination process as well as the inoculation of a considerable number of teachers.
“For the ministry to open schools with such low levels of vaccination, let alone allow conglomeration of 140 000 teachers, five to six million pupils and over 80 000 ancillary staff in schools without testing for COVID-19 and provision of COVID-19 abatement equipment like running water in schools, is suicidal,” he said.
“The net result would be a quantum leap of COVID-19 cases in schools, where bloated classes and congestion in hostels are other vectors leading to an increase of cases. There is a school in Manicaland (province) where Grade 7 students have already tested positive to COVID-19 this week.”
Zimbabwe Teachers Association spokesperson Goodwill Taderera added: “In a situation where teachers are coming from different directions, even the learners themselves coming from different directions, chances are they are also taking with them the different variants of the virus to the schools, so it means different variants are going to be spread.
“That is why we are asking the government to come up with a special programme for teachers to vaccinate them, particularly at their workstations.”
Agnes Mahomva, the national COVID-19 response chief co-ordinator, said there was no need to panic because government had made thorough preparations, working with the United Nations Children’s Fund, for the reopening of schools.
She said set guidelines were being followed.
Mahomva said schools were reopened at the end of the third wave, and not in the midst, after government had strengthened measures to combat the spread of the virus in schools.
“Government is there to protect its citizens and that is what we are doing,” she said, adding that there had always been potential for a new wave.
On reports that Grade 7 pupils at a school in Manicaland province had tested positive to the virus, Mahomva said: “If there is such a case, the Ministry of Health is there in schools working with the Ministry of Education. They know the guidelines to follow. There is no need to panic.”
Zimbabwe has in the past few weeks registered a decline in infections and deaths, which has resulted in the reopening of schools and resumption of sporting activities across the country.
Since the first case was recorded in March last year, Zimbabwe has so far recorded 125 118 positive cases and 4 449 deaths.