Thursday, June 25, 2020

Swaziland schools to reopen from coronavirus lockdown but Govt. admits infections and deaths surging

The Swaziland (eSwatini) Government is to reopen schools from coronavirus lockdown even though it admits the number of infections and deaths is increasing.

Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini called the increase in cases a ‘surge’ in a statement on Tuesday (23 June 2020). ‘We are dealing with a highly unpredictable virus,’ he said.

He added, ‘We are dealing with an evolving situation which still presents a lot of uncertainty.’

He also announced a U-turn on easing the lockdown across the kingdom. The wholesale distribution of alcohol would be once again banned. It had previously been banned and then unbanned. Swaziland has been in partial lockdown since 27 March 2020.

A total of 674 people had tested positive and seven died in Swaziland of coronavirus (COVID-19) as of 23 June 2020, according to official Ministry of Health figures. By 1 June there had been 293 confirmed cases and three deaths.

Dlamini said, ‘Over the past two weeks we have seen an unfortunate surge of positive cases in the country which suggests that we have to review some of these easing measures to avoid overwhelming our health system.’

The government has also reissued a declaration under the Disaster Management Act and is reviewing its COVID-19 response plan. The Prime Minister said the government did not have money to implement its plan and appealed to international donors for help. 

Dlamini said schools would start to reopen on 6 July 2020. Previously a date of 1 July had been set.

Dlamini said, ‘Educational Institutions remain a critical sector towards socio-economic development. Schools and Educational Institutions cannot remain closed for ever. If the academic year is not ended it may suggest bigger challenges later on as schools may not have the capacity to enrol new Grade 1 pupils. The system would be clogged up. One lost academic year can lead to unprecedented socio-economic challenges such as gaps in labour market skill-sets in subsequent years.’

He said schools would get guidelines on how to reopen safely. ‘Government’s focus is to ensure and secure a safe and seamless transition back to quality teaching and learning,’ he said.

 Later, Ministry of Education and Training Principal Secretary Bertram Steward issued an announcement calling all high school teachers in Swaziland to return to work on Monday to undergo training ahead of the reopening.

Previously, Education and Training Minister Lady Howard-Mabuza said that teachers were contractually obligated to make up for the lost learning time as they had been receiving full payment of salaries.

Separately,  she told the Swazi House of Assembly schools needed E56 million (US$3.2 million) to reopen to purchase materials, including personal protective equipment. A budget has been submitted to the Cabinet.

The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) has already drawn up a list of issues it wanted addressed before schools could safely reopen. They included schools to be disinfected, all children tested for coronavirus, a nurse on site at every school and the transportation of learners to conform with social distance requirements. The marking of class work and sharing of books should be also be discontinued, SNAT said. 

SNAT has also said the government was shifting responsibility to ensure schools were safe to individual teachers, headteachers and parent.

See also

Delay in reopening Swaziland schools as coronavirus cases continue to rise

Work still to be done before Swaziland schools open after coronavirus lockdown

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