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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Schools on track to open even with rising Covid-19 infections

While the lockdown rules are likely to be extended, schools are still set to open as initially planned.

This is according to the Department of Basic Education Spokesman Elijah Mhlanga who said the department has received advice from the Ministerial Advisory Committee that schools should still open on 19 July.

With the increase in Covid-19 infections across the country, there have been calls for the department not to open schools on 19 July.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said on Sunday that a total of 22 117 tests were conducted over the last 24 hours with 21 610 new cases. According to the institute, this represents a 28% positivity rate. The institute also added that a further 265 people have died from Covid-19 related deaths brining the total fatalities in the country to 64 138.

It is because of this trajectory that President Cyril Ramaphosa on 27 June moved South Africa to an adjusted alert level 4 lock down in an effort to curb the spread of the third wave of Covid-19 and reduce the burden on healthcare facilities. According to the president, evidence indicates that the Delta variant is driving a severe third wave in South Africa and the country continues to have the highest Covid-19 burden in Africa.

READ: BREAKING: Schools to shut down from Wednesday

Ramaphosa said the regulations also meant that schools were once again forced to shut down from 30 June. He said the winter holidays will be moved forward in an attempt to reduce the impact of this lockdown on the studies of young South Africans.

Ramaphosa said he would address the nation again after the two weeks to formulate a way forward.

According to experts, the president is unlikely to move South Africa away from level 4 lockdown even as the number of Covid-19 cases in the country remain high.

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) will meet today, on Sunday, to assess developments in the Covid-19 pandemic and the national response to this challenge.

The NCCC meeting will be followed by meetings of the President’s Coordinating Council and Cabinet.

These meetings come two weeks after Ramaphosa moved the country to Alert Level 4 to curb the spread of the virus.

The new level 4 lockdown regulations include a curfew between 21:00 to 04:00, a ban on alcohol sales, restrictions on gatherings, and closing schools by bringing holidays forward.

Schools are currently expected to reopen on 19 July in accordance with an announcement by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

READ: It will be “devastating” if schools don’t open on 19 July – says Motshekga

However, it is unclear how schools will be affected by a possible extension of the current adjusted level 4 national lockdown.

Chief Economist at the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University Hugo Pienaar said the current lockdown will be extended.

Pienaar said the seven-day rolling average has risen since Ramaphosa first moved the country to an adjusted level 4 lockdown, meaning it would be difficult to justify a reduction in the lockdown level.

 But the department says it cannot afford to lose another school year.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said it will be devastating if the country’s schools are not allowed to reopen on 19 July as planned.

Motshekga said the education sector has already lost significant time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which will have long-term ramifications.

She said her department plans to open on 19 July as gazetted but, “we will not be irresponsible if there are still difficulties by the time we want to open and bring more learners”.

Mhlanga said the call for schools not to open is an irresponsible call.

READ: Unions welcome the closure of schools

“Even last year they said close schools but when we opened schools, parents took their children to schools.

“This is a call by few people, and it is funny that it is always the minority group that makes such calls that schools must be closed down,” said Mhlanga.

Adding that, “when we prepare to open schools, those people are not there to offer their ideas.

“They are all about saying ‘close’, but they do not tell you how to open; they don’t even contribute in that regard,” said Mhlanga.

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