BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/PRESTIGE MNTANGA
TWO schools in Matabeleland South have reported 106 cases of COVID-19, reigniting fears that schools remain hotspots and that authorities were not adequately prepared for their reopening.
Sacred Heart Girls High School in Esigodini was closed on Thursday after 51 pupils tested positive to COVID-19.
The Health ministry also reported that 55 pupils at Umzingwane High School tested positive to the virus on the same day.
According to the situational report released by the ministry, Umzingwane High School cases were part of the 68 new cases recorded countrywide on Thursday.
Late last month, seven pupils at Prince Edward High School in Harare tested positive to COVID-19 after undergoing PCR tests at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals.
Government banned pupils in boarding schools from travelling home for the Easter holidays to avoid the potential of spreading coronavirus. It also ordered that lessons be conducted on a rotational basis to enhance social distancing in classes.
Matabeleland South medical director Ruth Chikodzore confirmed that some students tested positive to COVID-19 at Sacred Heart Girls High School.
She said the school has been closed to avoid the spread of cases and the health and education officers were working to strengthen COVID-19 preventive measures at the institution.
“Those who tested positive are in isolation at the school and those who were negative are under quarantine in separate facilities at the school,” Chikodzore said.
But a source from the Health ministry yesterday told NewsDay Weekender that tests at Sacred High School were conducted after four students had tested positive to COVID-19.
“We tested 136 students and 51 tested positive. Among the positive cases, two are staff members, while four are day scholars and 45 are boarding students,” an Education ministry official, who preferred anonymity, said.
“Among the day scholars who tested positive, two stay at Sacred Heart Primary, one stay at Sacred Heart Secondary and last one stay at Falcon College.”
Reports were that the cumulative COVID-19 positive cases at the Roman Catholic Church run-girls high school stood at 55 while staff members that tested negative were vaccinated.
Primary and Secondary Education ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro said COVID-19 cases were being reported in schools because authorities were failing to follow the laid out standard operating procedures in curbing the spread of the virus.
He said: “Government banned travelling of boarding pupils for Easter holidays, but some errant school authorities permitted pupils to go out and allowed some parents to see their children.
“The pupils contracted the virus from outside, resulting in cases developing in schools. That explains why cases are spiking soon after the Easter holidays.”
He, however, referred questions on government’s plans to curb spread of COVID-19 in schools to the Health ministry.
Chief co-ordinator of the national response to COVID-19, Agnes Mahomva said government was monitoring closely cases of COVID-19 in schools. She said the situation in schools was “under control” could have been worse if the government had not put in place strict preventative measures.
“We are investigating why the schools recorded new cases when there are robust standard operating procedures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19,” Mahomva said.
“After investigations, we will analyse the outcomes and try to address the loopholes which might have led to the emergence of new cases in schools. We will advise the nation of the new preventative measures, if there is need.”
Reports of COVID-19 in schools come at a time health experts have warned that a deadlier third wave was imminent. Teachers unions opposed the reopening of schools over concerns of government’s preparedness to handle COVID-19 cases.
In a recent report, the World Health Organisation said sub-Saharan countries, including Zimbabwe, were already facing the threat of new COVID-19 variants when their health institutions were poorly equipped to handle new variants.