With Covid-19 infections at Gauteng schools continuing to surge, the provincial education department on Friday said it would close schools if experts advise it to do so.
There have been growing calls for the country to close schools amid the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga expected to address the media on Saturday on her department’s response to the impact of the virus on schooling.
Addressing the media at Buyani Primary School in Finetown following the fatal shooting of the principal on the school’s premises, education department spokesperson Steve Mabona said a total of 4,700 Covid-19 cases had been confirmed at Gauteng schools.
Mabona said a total of 2,800 pupils tested positive for Covid-19 as well as 1,500 teachers. He said the majority of cases were in high schools.
Mabona said the rise in new cases was concerning and they would be guided by scientific evidence before making any decision to close schools.
“We’ve been expert-driven since the beginning of Covid. We have never closed a school or schools without advice from professionals,” he said.
“From where we are sitting, although we are fact-driven, we don’t want a situation whereby we will be losing lives. If the professional advice is to close, we will then do that.”
Mabona said they would wait for Motshekga’s address on Saturday to see how they should proceed.
Gauteng is the epicentre of the pandemic in the country, with the province recording 7,502 new cases in the past 24 hour reporting cycle.
Just last week, 1,977 pupils in the province contracted Covid-19 across more than 2,000 schools, resulting in the closure of at least 20 schools.
Monitoring Covid-19 cases
Mabona said the department was monitoring active cases in schools across Gauteng, working with the health department.
“We are monitoring the situation very closely. You might recall that we had recorded about 20 schools we closed. We are standing at just over 20 that we have closed now,” he said.
“When we see that numbers are probably higher and those that then need to isolate they [health department] would indicate the schools might need to be closed.”
The EFF has called on the Department of Basic Education to close schools in order to protect school children and parents as well as teachers from contracting the virus. The party threatened to take matters into its own hands if the department fails to do so.
“We know there are some political organisations that will say they want to go to our schools and assist us to close them. We don’t see that as being progressive, we are informed by the facts and what our researchers and professionals are saying,” Mabona said.
School closed by parties
Mabona said a school was closed on Thursday in Kenilworth, Johannesburg by political parties, which he did not name. He said they would work with law enforcement agencies to deal with this.
“It’s quite unfortunate that people were threatened and the school ended up being closed.”
On the arrival of 300,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses on Friday set aside for teaching staff, Mabona said the educators did not need to register for the jabs as they were already on the system.
The government aims to vaccinate 499,000 teachers including school staff at all schools.
“What we are doing is that we have to avail to the educators how many [vaccines] will be going where. The department of health has given us information indicating the areas that are going to be administering this vaccination process,” Mabona said.