Exercise extreme caution as schools reopen

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WHILE COVID-19 infection rates have been falling in the past few weeks, the pandemic is still with us and remains as deadly as ever.

Officially, just over 4 500 Zimbabweans are still infected, which is a huge drop from daily infection rates of over 50 000 recorded at the height of the third wave, which claimed several lives.

This means extreme caution must continue to be exercised to limit the spread, especially as schools reopen on Monday. Hindsight has taught Zimbabweans, along with other countries, that the pandemic seems to spread faster during the school term.

This is when children from different places mix in classes and playgrounds. Those who get infected take the virus to their homes, and the cycle of contagion grows, spreading out to many families.

Over 4,2 million Zimbabweans have been inoculated against the virus, which means the impact may not be as devastating as before. But this in itself poses serious danger to the population as it promotes complacence.

There should be no room for complacence. Zimbabwe risks plunging into a far deeper health crisis if laxity is allowed to creep in.

Teachers must treat everyone as a potential COVID-19 carrier and enforce prescribed protocols to the full to help Zimbabwe avoid further carnage. They must remember that over 5 000 of our people have died and Zimbabwe won’t afford to lose more.

Along with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols, another important thing for educators will be encouraging learners in age groups that have been cleared for vaccination to take up the jabs.

Encouragement must extend beyond learners to include parents. Teachers are respected members of society. If they help boost parents’ confidence that vaccines are harmless, the uptake rate will increase.

The learners’ inoculation programme presents Zimbabwe with a good opportunity to achieve the targeted 60% head immunity. The country is just 5,8 million shy of hitting that target.

There should be no reason for learners to hesitate. The economy has suffered because government has had to apply lockdown measures to protect people. The education system is in danger because without head immunity, lockdowns will continue.

Except for a few from privileged families, learners have barely learned since March 2020, when the first hard lockdown was announced. The results have been bad. While the encouragement has been a shift to online lessons, this method has serious shortcomings and tends to disadvantage pupils from poor communities.

The majority of primary school learners cannot learn via the internet. They need physical presence in classes. Many more students in high schools still require physical contact with their teachers in order to understand.

Of course, there is also the issue of affordability, which has always been pointed out. We cannot rely on the internet because we have failed to manage the pandemic.

By so doing, we are not only creating a society of 21st century uneducated people. We are also killing a nation. It is within teacher’s capacity to help this nation fight the scourge as learners return to classes.

We trust that they will measure up to this demand. But for teachers to succeed, they need resources. We hope that all systems that have been promised by government are up and running and come Monday, Zimbabwe won’t be exposing itself to serious danger.

To learners, please mask up and stay safe.