HomeEditorial CommentSchools reopening: COVID-19 poses a bigger threat to livelihoods

Schools reopening: COVID-19 poses a bigger threat to livelihoods

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ZIMBABWE is a country of contrasts and its people have strong opinions, especially on social media. This makes for interesting debates on almost any topic and decisions, choices or opinions are contested fiercely.

The latest decision by government to defer the reopening of schools citing the high number of COVID-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant is a case in point.

Zimbabwe has been due to reopen schools next week, but like much of the region, the country has been experiencing a surge in coronavirus infections. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said only examination classes will be allowed to reopen today.

Predictably, the decision has come under attack.

“The decision by the Zanu PF regime to delay the opening of schools is a mistake, indeed catastrophic.

“Our education system is in dire straits and we face the prospect of an entire generation of children failing to acquire educational building blocks. Schools must reopen,” fumed former Education minister, David Coltart on Twitter.

A parent, Evelyn Matuke of Chitungwiza, opined: “It is very worrisome that government has decided to postpone the reopening of schools when our children have lost a lot of learning time due to COVID-19 in the past two years.  The government should just ensure that pupils and teachers adhere to the laid down preventative measures, while learning is proceeding. Pupils are increasingly losing focus on learning if government continues to postpone reopening of schools.”

Yes, it is true that Zimbabwe’s school calendar was disrupted for much of 2020 and 2021 as the country tried to curb the spread of COVID-19. So did pretty much of the world. It was not a phenomenon limited to Zimbabwe.

As health expert and Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive Solwayo Ngwenya pointed out, delaying reopening of schools by a month or two in the midst of such a terrible pandemic, where resources are low, is justifiable.

Latest statistics from the Health ministry show that in the past seven days, the highest number of daily deaths recorded was 32, while new infections figures have been fluctuating, with the highest standing at 2 107. The seven-day-rolling average of new cases stood at 1 495 as of Saturday.

As health experts have repeatedly pointed out, the long term effects the Omicron variant are still unclear and how certain demographics of the population are infected or affected. It is, therefore, prudent for government to take a cautious approach to reopening schools.

When the schools closed at the end of 2021, COVID-19 cases were averaging over 4 000 per day, and institutions were the hotspots. The numbers may have fallen by half, but the situation is still untenable and in our view the government did the sensible thing to defer the reopening of schools.

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