World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Programme Executive Director Dr. Michael Ryan says the best time to reopen schools is during low community transmission. He addressed the issue in a media briefing held by the WHO on 13 July.
SA is currently not in a phase of low community transmissions, as the country sits at almost 300 000. On Tuesday evening, South African Minister of Health, Dr. Zweli Mkhize confirmed 298 292 Covid-19 cases in South Africa, with 10 496 new cases identified. Total deaths to date stand at 4 346.
“The best and safest way to reopen schools is in the context of low community transmission, that has been effectively suppressed by a broad-based, comprehensive strategy,” said Dr Ryan.
“We can’t move from ‘let’s deal with the schools’ and then we all deal with that for a week or two, and then ‘let’s deal with the workplace’ and then we all deal with that for a week or two, and then ‘let’s deal with infection rate in hospitals or long-term care facilities’. This is playing whack-a-mole.
“We have got to focus on a comprehensive, long-term strategy that focuses on everything at one time.
Dr Ryan warned against politicising schools reopening
He said it would be unfair on children to turn the reopening of schools into “another political football game”. Governments should base their decisions on the best interests of the children – both in terms of their education and their health.
These decisions should be backed up by data.
“There are many countries around the world in which schools are reopening. Successfully and safely. Because countries have dealt with the real problem: Community Transmission,” says Dr Ryan.
SADTU calls for schools to close due to high community transmissions
On Tuesday, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) held a special meeting to come up with an urgent response to the spikes in Covid-19 cases in SA schools
“The rate of community transmissions are impacting on schooling. The frontline workers who are at the coalface of the pandemic have been infected and affected. We are in a crisis and every life matters,” said a statement by the union.
“The special NEC resolved that the schools should close until after the peak. The pandemic has led to a pandemonium in the education sector and this can be linked to the lack-lustre leadership that we have been experiencing from the Department of Basic Education at various levels.”
The union said that the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, had not complied with its demands to ensure the safety of teachers and learners.
The union said that three factors had informed its call to close schools:
- The fact that the country was reaching peak infections and community transmission was escalating
- Scientific evidence on how the virus affects and infects children continues to change. Evidence on how the virus spreads is also continually evolving.
- Inconsistencies in the application of health protocols in schools.
“The situation is dire and impacts on everyone in the community and not only schools because schools are the microcosm of the society.”
Listen to Mike Ryan on community transmission levels & the importance of looking at the whole picture in each local setting
Especially regarding debates on the reopening of schools https://t.co/Z23K1v5x70
— Dr. Michelle Kelly-Irving (@shell_ki) July 14, 2020