Calls to close schools after over 200 test positive at EC boarding school

Deep cleaning of classrooms at Bedfordview Primary School in Bedfordview, 26 May 2020 ahead of pupils returning to school after lockdown measures were introduced to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic. The red crosses on each desk is to stop anyone sitting too close to other pupils. Picture: Neil McCartney

National Teachers Organisation of South Africa leader in the Eastern Cape Loyiso Mbinda said they warned the department not to open schools in June.

The National Association of School Governing Bodies is calling for the immediate closure of schools in the Eastern Cape after 204 people, mainly pupils, tested positive at an Eastern Cape boarding school.

Makaula Secondary School in KwaBhaca, formerly Mount Frere is the latest school to shut due to Covid-19.

Since the reopening of schools on 8 June, 196 had to again be closed due to the virus in the Eastern Cape.

Of those, 132 remain shut this week while 40 re-opened after decontamination. The situation at 24 schools was not explained by the provincial government.

Eastern Cape department of health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said it had sent a team of doctors and tracers to the school to manage the situation.

He said they were also looking into converting the school’s hostel into an isolation facility to prevent the further spread of the virus.

“A team of clinicians have been sent to the school to ascertain if the hostel meets the department’s minimum standards for quarantine and isolation facilities, which include, but not limited to lighting, well ventilated rooms and sanitation services,” said Kupelo.

“This is so that those who came into contact with the 204 people who have tested positive can be traced, screened and tested so that we stop the spread of the virus.”

He said the first group of 24 positive cases were initially taken into isolation sites within the Alfred Nzo District municipality.

The Eastern Cape chairperson of the National Association of SGB’s Mongameli Peter said it was because of the “stop and go” temporary closures and rising cases that his association is calling for a long closure.

“The association is noting with serious concern the general spread of Covid-19 which, as a consequence, caused the closure of many reopened schools in the province. It is for that reason that EC NASGB is calling and will be formalising that call to the department of education in the province in our next education command council meeting to close the schooling in the current form.”

Peter said the temporary closures were not a solution.

“It is not assisting the purpose, beside the sense of anxiety and fear that is felt by all. It will never bring any positive in the current approach or form of schooling.”

The confirmed number of cases at the boarding school jumped by 180 pupils from Friday’s 24.

National Teachers Organisation of South Africa leader in the Eastern Cape Loyiso Mbinda said they warned the department not to open schools in June.

“We warned them the virus thrives in winter.”

Mbinda said: “We had no problem with the reopening of schools, but the issue we had was the bad timing. Our view was that the virus will peak in winter due to cold temperatures. Covid-19 thrives in winter.”

Mbinda said congestion at the boarding school may have contributed to the spike in infections.

“It is not easy to believe that all of those pupils caught the virus at school; we believe it is spreading fast because of the congestion conditions. It’s a small school.”

Eastern Cape provincial education department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said schools doubled up as test centres where pupils can be screened and tested in a controlled environment.

“The spike of coronavirus is the mirror and reflection of what it is happening in the community. The school environment provides an opportunity to support children unlike at the communities where they live, not being aware whether they are carrying the Covid-19 virus or not,” said Pulumani.

Kupelo emphasised the importance of physical distancing and sanitising.

“We would like to call on everyone to continue adhering to the lockdown regulations by practicing good personal hygiene by washing their hands with soap and water or sanitiser regularly, keeping at least a 1.2 metre distance between them and other people, wearing mask at all times when out in public and if possible, stay at home.”

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