Schools across the country and contact classes at tertiary institutions will start shutting down from this Wednesday 30 June.
This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa who on Sunday evening addressed the country on the government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramaphosa said the closure of schools and other educational institutions for the winter holidays will be brought forward. He said all schools – including private schools – will be expected to be closed by the end of the week – on Friday; and that only limited access to tertiary institutions will be allowed. Ramaphosa said tertiary residences will, however, remain open.
Ramaphosa was addressing the nation following the reporting of sharp increases in the average number of daily new Covid-19 infections across the country.
He said the number of daily new infections was more than doubling, and that hospital admissions were rising. Ramaphosa said the deaths from Covid-19 were increasing by nearly 50%.
“The situation has gotten worse. In addition, we now have the Delta variant. The Delta variant has now been detected in five of our provinces, namely the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.
“We are concerned about the rapid spread of this variant. “Reports from some countries, including on our continent, also suggest that infections and clinical illness in children may be more common with the delta variant, even as the overall rate of infection remains substantially lower than in adults,” said Ramaphosa.
Just two weeks ago, parents raised their concerns about Department of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga gazetting that on 26 July learners in Grade R to seven, as well as grade R to 12 learners are special needs schools are to return to class daily.
The minister said the current rotational system in place was no longer working.
“It really worries me that we are going to erode the foundations of learning,” said Motshekga two weeks ago.
She said learners were missing out on a lot of work because they would come in one week and skip the next.
The minister’s decision was supported by the DBE portfolio committee.
Motshekga said: “We continue to monitor the trajectory of the pandemic and make all necessary regulations and directions in line with the Covid-19 risk-adjusted differentiated strategy.
“I realise that there is anxiety about sending all primary school children back to school at once. There’s no need to panic. Our decision making is supported by empirical evidence.”
Her decision came under fierce criticism from some unions and political parties.
The Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) called on teachers across the country to not go to work from Monday 21 June.
Julius Malema, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) president also called for the shut down of schools and crèches as the country inched closer to the third wave of the pandemic.
Malema said it was so painful to lose elderly people in the first and second wave.
Imagine now when we are going to have to bury kids, he said.
“Our children are going to die. We give the minister seven days to close schools. Failure to do so we will have to close schools ourselves as the EFF because we are not going to allow our children to die. We are not going to allow that.
“Can you imagine now when we are going to have to go and bury kids the way we were burying old people,” said Malema.
Malema said it was becoming clearer now that children are affected by the virus as more and more were testing positive for the virus.
On Sunday, Ramaphosa said what South Africa is seeing is that the existing containment measures in place are not enough to cope with the speed and scale of new infections.
He said government has drawn on international best practice and scientific data from studies across the world when it considered what new measures to take.
“Our priority is to break the chain of transmission by reducing person-to-person contact and thereby help to flatten the curve.
“Based on scientific advice we received from the Ministerial Advisory Committee and further consultation with our provinces and metros and traditional leaders, and on the recommendation of the National Coronavirus Command Council, Cabinet has decided that the country should move to Adjusted Alert Level 4,” said Ramaphosa.
Adding that these additional restrictions will be in place for the next 14 days.
The president said the ministers of basic education and the minister of higher education, science and innovation will provide further details on arrangements.