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Return to normal: Primary schools will open at full capacity despite Covid

Written by Nompilo Gwala

As schools across the country prepare for the start of the new school year, the Department of Basic Education held a media briefing to discuss the state of schools readiness to open, amidst the ongoing pandemic.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the Basic Education sector. In addition to learners losing teaching and learning time, many endured trauma with the loss of parents and guardians and teachers. At least 3000 education personnel lost their lives to COVID-19 complications.

Measures to contain Covid

Deputy Director-General of the Basic Education department, Simone Geyer announced that all primary schools should open at full capacity and should practice maximum feasible physical distancing between learners. The COVID-19 protocol states that children should be at least one meter apart within classrooms and children should have mask breaks every two hours where they go outdoors and remove their masks for approximately 5-15 minutes.

Geyer shared that the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19 advised that high schools should not open at full capacity because of the higher number of pupils in high schools. Instead, the MAC advised learners attend school on a rotational basis because of the relatively higher risk of COVID infection in children aged 15-19 years.

“In the case of high schools, they [MAC] did not allow us to open high schools at full capacity because there are larger numbers in high schools. The high schools were not able in many instances to maintain the one metre arrangement in the classroom,” said Geyer.

The department is currently exploring possibilities of returning schooling to normal.

“The fact of the matter, is that COVID-19 is very much still with us, and we need to continue to work together to fight it.  We are exploring possibilities to return schooling to normal, but we need to do so responsibly; and to this end, we rely entirely on the advice of public health experts, through the Ministerial Advisory Committee, the National Coronavirus Command Council, and indeed Cabinet,” said Motshekga.

No vaccination campaign for learners at schools

Motshekga said currently the department cannot run vaccination rollout programmes in schools as the Department of Health does not have the resource capacity to be present in all schools.

“We will use existing sites for vaccination even for the 12-year-olds and above.  Let me emphasize that vaccination is voluntary,” said Motshekga.

She added: “For education personnel, vaccination sites are open.  Your details are already on the system; hence you do not need to make prior bookings.  Just present yourself, and vaccinate or get a booster shot.”

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Nompilo Gwala

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