Rising COVID-19 cases in schools a ticking time bomb



THE upsurge in COVID-19 cases in schools in recent weeks is worrisome. Since the start of the summer season, we had seen a drop in COVID-19 cases and deaths as government upscaled the national vaccination programme with the aim of reaching 60% herd immunity by end of year.

Statistics from the past weeks, especially in schools, are a cause for concerns as most of the learners are not vaccinated.

Government has been dithering on rolling out a vaccination programme for children aged between 14 and 19 years, but with the rising numbers of positive cases in schools, the programme should be rolled out imminently.

While the young people are not at risk of becoming severely sick and needing hospitalisation, the major concern is on containing and restricting the outbreak within schools.

Government recently announced that despite the surge in COVID-19  cases, schools would remain open while efforts to combat the coronavirus are worked out. But this will be a challenge given that some schoolchildren are day scholars and some use public transport, posing a risk of spreading the virus in the communities they come from.

There is a high possibility that their contacts, such as family members, neighbours and other people, can spread the virus to their workplaces, putting the country at risk of another wave. With end-of-year school examinations around the corner, closing schools again is not an option as learners risk losing out a year of studies since schools were closed in June before they reopened late last month.

We urge government to expeditiously heed the teacher unions’ call to avail personal protective equipment to all schools and vaccinate all eligible groups.

Urgent intervention by government is needed in providing test kits in all boarding schools so that all pupils are tested and the infected quarantined. This will also stop recurrent infection. Teachers’ unions have urged authorities to provide food, tents, toiletries, sanitary wear and blankets to quarantined day scholars.

Health officials must also be deployed to affected institutions to guide, monitor and supervise the quarantine centres. There is also need to provide COVID-19 abatement equipment and drill boreholes in schools.

It is high time government puts aside its arrogance and stops taking things for granted and do the normal under the circumstances.

We were shocked when government announced that the surge was insignificant.

Surely, how can a whole government official say that when everyone is worried abut the health and safety of schoolchildren?

Any surge in statistics, nomatter how small, cannot be dismissed as insignificant as it is tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot. A rise in cases is the tip of an iceberg. The statistics we have so far are not a true reflection of what’s on the ground.

The first, second and third waves have dealt a huge blow on our lives, hence a fourth wave will decimate everything we have worked to achieve in our resilience. Afterall, we are a few months away from the festive season where cross-border and intercity travel will increase, further spreading the killer virus in the process.

Government should continue promoting vaccine uptake. Hesitancy will not take us anywhere. Zimbabwe continues to receive vaccines — bought or donated — and so far with more than three million people having received the first jab, and 2,157 million people fully vaccinated, government needs to vaccinate eligible pupils with speed.

The health delivery system will not survive another round of admissions and the few health workers still holding the fort may curve in from the pressure. The fragile economy will also not manage another shock in the form of stricter lockdown measures.


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