By Anna Chibamu
LAWMAKERS have demanded immediate closure of schools to avoid the further spread of Covid-19 after some learning institutions in Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Midlands provinces recorded more than 100 new cases in recent days.
Schools opened for examination classes on 28 September 2020 and for non-exam classes last week.
However, this week, John Tallach High School in Matabeleland North recorded more than 100 cases of the pandemic, prompting government to order its immediate closure.
Leader of government business in the National Assembly who also doubles as the justice minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi told the MPs that even though resources for testing Covid-19 in schools are scarce, government would not be pushed to close schools but it would put in place measures to make sure learning continued.
His response was directed at MDC Alliance Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya who had asked why the government was not considering the closure of schools in light of Covid-19 cases rising.
“Honourable Speaker, yesterday (Tuesday) in the Post Cabinet briefing, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa highlighted that Cabinet had resolved that schools that are recording Covid-19 cases can close,” said Chikwinya.
“Now, seeing that there are a number of schools that are coming up recording Covid-19 cases, among pupils especially in Bulawayo and Midlands, what is the Government going to do with regards to the sitting of examinations in the presence of rising cases among pupils?
“With the lack of capacity of government to equip schools with Covid-19 test kits and with the amount required for anyone to be tested for Covid-19, do you not see that the government should simply declare all schools closed until we deal with the pandemic?” said Chikwinya.
In response, Ziyambi said: “Government’s position was that where schools do not have testing facilities, they have to close down to ensure the safety of learners. Also, the government cannot insist on sitting for examinations where there is a danger of loss of lives.”
But the MP wanted to know what would happen to schools without testing kits.
“Herentials College in Gweru had four students who tested positive and these were told to come back to school if they have Covid-19 certificates. It is just an example and not to be specific.”
Harare North MP, Rusty Markham said the number of tests per week had dropped yet the number of positive results had more than doubled.
“If you take the total number of Covid-19 tests done last week, it is 8 000, I believe it is about one test per school if they were all given to schools throughout the country. That is nowhere near enough. What policy has the government got to improve the protection of children and also of teachers?” added Markham.
Ziyambi responded: “Resources can never be enough and that is a fact. Government has declared a state of a pandemic where resources were channelled to the health ministry and we designated NatPharm as the buying agent. So we cannot then say we are not going to open out rightly because we do not know when this pandemic is going to end. We put in place standard operating procedures to ensure that we continue with learning in the new normal just like what we are doing going to work.”
Norton MP Temba Mliswa also weighed in: “The chairperson of the Covid-19 Taskforce was very clear in this House that there were not enough resources to deal with the disease. That on its own was an admission that we cannot continue. Government cannot risk people’s lives because it is not just about the school. After school, those children also play with other kids.
“How then do you trace them around in terms of the Covid-19? The truth of the matter is why have we gone ahead to open schools when we do not have enough resources at the expense of people’s lives? These are young children, unlike you and me. They need to have families and they need to lead their lives. Why risk when we have no resources as a Government at the expense of people’s lives.”