Some schools in Swaziland (eSwatini) began to reopen from coronavirus lockdown on Monday (6 July 2020) amid fears that the virus has still to reach its peak.
The entire Swazi Cabinet is in isolation after Public Works and Transport Minister Ndlaluhlaza Ndwandwe tested positive for the virus.
Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini announced a series of relaxations of the lockdown that has been in place since 27 March. More businesses will be able to open and larger gatherings are allowed.
The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) in a series of statements over the past few days said schools were not ready to reopen and measures to ensure safety of pupils and staff were not in place.
Other trade unions have also questioned the wisdom of the government in relaxing restrictions.
As of 5 July there had been 988 people test positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), according to official Ministry of Health figures. A week previously that number had been 795. There have been 13 reported deaths from coronavirus.
SNAT said it had been inspecting schools over two weeks and concluded they were not safe to reopen. There are 933 schools in Swaziland and at present the plan is to open classes for Form V pupils who have examinations to take.
The Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported a memo from the Ministry of Education and Training that stated that 13 schools in the Shiselweni Region were not ready to reopen. It reported, ‘Minister of Education and Training Lady Howard-Mabuza confirmed that the 13 schools were not ready to operate under the dangerous COVID-19 outbreak because they could put their children in danger.’
SNAT leaders also expressed anger that teachers were required to scrub out classrooms ahead of the reopening. Secretary General Sikelela Dlamini said, ‘Those employed on contracts basis have been threatened with non-renewal of contracts, if they do not take the instructions from their supervisors to clean the surfaces of their schools.
‘Teachers have been forced by the government to go work even though the level of preparedness is so low. The Minister of Education has threated teachers with no work no pay, therefore teachers have no alternative but to risk their lives.’
Separately, Sikelela Dlamini said SNAT would seek an urgent high court order on Monday (6 July) to halt the reopening of schools.
Meanwhile, other trade unions in Swaziland criticised the relaxation of the lockdown. The National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) Secretary General Thulani Hlatshwayo said it put public transport operators at risk.
Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union President Bheki Mamba said the health service could not cope with the current number of cases. He told the Sunday Observer, ‘You cannot relax and allow gathering of 100 people when new infections are on the rise and there are no medical supplies, personal protective equipment, human resources and COVID -19 supplies including test kits. Now they are changing the case definition and they say we must only test patients showing symptoms and leave out asymptomatic people and contacts of COVID-19 patients.’
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