REPORTS that as many as 100 students have tested positive for COVID-19 at John Tallach Secondary School, a private boarding facility in Matabeleland North province, should jolt government authorities to revisit its rash decision to reopen schools at a time the country is experiencing a second wave of the pandemic.
Reports suggest that the figure could be understated as testing at the school with an enrolment of 670 pupils is still underway. This comes just days after Joshua Mqabuko Polytechnic in Gwanda was forced to suspend lectures following a COVID-19 outbreak at the institution.
Isolated cases have been recorded in Masvingo, Marondera and other parts of the country, and pupils cannot surely be sacrificed to massage some arrogant top government official’s ego.
It is clear that government was not prepared for reopening of schools, hence it was one of the key grievances raised by teachers during their long stand-off with the employer.
Prior to reopening of schools, parents and teachers unions raised concern over preparedness to handle COVID-19 cases. Their suggestion to suspend physical lessons until next year is turning out to be sound advice which was ignored for political expediency.
They were dismissed as alarmists and government forced schools to reopen without providing the requisite personal protective equipment.
Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema simply buried his head in the sand and ploughed on, insisting that everything was normal and good to go.
And boom, a health crisis is on our hands, unfortunately coming at a time the country is witnessing an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Clearly, the minister cannot be trusted to determine the fate of our children.
Health experts have warned of a deadly second wave. We wonder if government is deaf to all these advisories and wants to use pupils as guinea pigs.
The country’s health delivery system surely cannot handle any more shocks particularly of a severe COVID-19 outbreak and the only rational response is for government to suspend all learning to save lives.
In Bulawayo, the reopening of schools has already encountered another challenge — a fresh outbreak of diarrhea owing to rolling water shortages.
A twin outbreak of COVID-19 and diarrhoea will surely be too much to handle, and the least that can be done under the circumstances is to let learners and educators go home, and allow learning to resume when it’s safe to do so.
Government needs to sober up and do the right thing, suspend physical learning until conditions are favourable. After all, it’s not a problem peculiar to Zimbabwe, but a global one.