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Monday, November 29, 2021

Teacher Unions, Parents Worried About COVID-19 Spike In KwaZulu-Natal Schools

MORE than 120 schools have reported cluster outbreaks of COVID-18 in KwaZulu-Natal since the start of the third term, according to KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala.

Two learners from KwaZulu-Natal died earlier this month after contracting the virus.

The third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has raised concerns among parents and teacher unions, who are now calling for closures of certain schools due to infections reported in KwaZulu Natal.

“We have also noted an increase in cluster cases, with schools emerging as the biggest contributor in this regard. In fact, more than 120 schools have reported clusters in their school settings; and more than 800 learners and teachers have been affected. Learners make up at least 95% of this number, while educators account for the remaining 5%,” said Zikalala.

The province has also had an increase in the incidence risk from 116 – 131 cases per 100 000 population group, said Zikalala.

The increase occurred in eight districts, with the exception of Amajuba, Uthukela and Umzinyathi; while EThekwini, UMgungundlovu, Ilembe, King Cetshwayo and Zululand observed a drastic increase in cases.

Teacher unions and parents in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands are now calling on the Department Basic Education to shut down schools with a high number of Covid-19 infections.

The unions and parents are concerned that the number of infections may rise as matric pupils are still occupying classes where positive cases were detected.

National Teachers Union (Natu) said the rise of infections demonstrated that government had rushed the opening of schools without ensuring that schools were adequately equipped to deal with the large numbers of pupils returning to school at once.

“We should place the lives of learners above everything else, because while efforts can be made to recover lost time, a life lost can never be recovered,” said Natu’s Sibusiso Malinga.

The KZN chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, Thirona Moodley, said Naptosa was saddened by the death of two pupils due to Covid-19.

“We have not previously seen such high learner infections. The experts did indicate that the Delta variant is more transmissible and we are seeing this in the infections in schools.

“We are also getting reports of teacher infections. Infections in schools result in learners in isolation or in quarantine. This results in learning losses and breaks the continuity of schooling. The stop-start schooling is disruptive and time lost cannot be made up.”

Last Friday, the province reported 4 198 new COVID-19 cases, followed by the Western Cape with 3828 new cases.

Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said: “We are concerned about the increase in community infections regarding Covid-19. The closure of schools is provided for in the standard operating procedures as part of the safety-first focus in Covid-19 case management. Schools are supposed to close temporarily to protect learners and teachers, it is part of the process it is not an anomaly. It is allowed and needed when the situation calls for it.”

As Covid-19 cases in KwaZulu-Natal soared past the 4 000 new infection mark, Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane has warned against complacency and “Covid-19 fatigue”.

“In the face of rising new infections, citizens of the province can ill-afford to be complacent and not follow precautions,” said Simelane.

She raised concerns many people have stopped taking non-pharmaceutical measures, such as wearing masks, washing their hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser, and practicing social distancing.

“We know that, perhaps because we talk about Covid-19 on a daily basis, people may feel like they’re growing ‘tired’ of consuming this information. But the truth is that things are really getting bad,” she said.

“We’ve been saying in the past months that we were not in the third wave and it seemed as though when it would eventually come, we would not be hit that hard. But in the past two weeks or so, we’ve seen exponential growth in the number of new daily infections, which is extremely concerning.”

In the latest 24-hour reporting period, the province has had 3 884 new cases, bringing to 450 781 the total number of confirmed cases.

A day earlier, the number of new infections stood at 4 198. There are currently 50 477 active cases in the province.

“Instead of the numbers going down, they’re rising. That is why we are pleading with the people of this province to adhere to non-pharmaceutical measures,” said Simelane.

“Scientists have told us that the Delta virus that we are dealing with is a lot more infectious. That is manifesting in the high rate of infections among young people and at schools. We are seeing a lot of people dying because of COVID–19. It’s something that we all should be worried about.”

The increase in cases comes as vaccinations opened for all adults over 18 on Friday.

  • Inside Education
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