The unfolding health crisis at Zimbabwe’s schools due to a spike in Covid-19 cases requires a holistic approach to stop the virus from spreading into communities and fuelling a resurgence in infections.
Zimbabwe just came out of a devastating third wave of the outbreak of Covid-19 that was characterised by a high number of deaths that were attributed to the more virulent Delta variant.
The third wave delayed the re-opening of schools by over two months and there were real concerns that the prolonged suspension of learning activities would cause irreparable harm to learners.
Schools finally re-opened beginning August 30 and at the time there were calls for the government to ensure that the learning environment was safe for the returning learners and teachers.
Unions at the time expressed concern that the government had not made provisions for adequate personal protective equipment and for the creation of an environment in schools where learners could follow the World Health Organisation regulations to stop the spread of Covid-19 such as keeping social distance.
It, therefore, came as no surprise when the government announced on Friday that 1 281 children and 131 teachers had tested positive for the virus since schools re-opened.
The Health and Child Care ministry said most of the cases were being recorded at boarding schools and did not require hospitalisation because those who tested positive had mild symptoms.
It said measures had been put in place to ensure safety of learners, which included increased Covid-19 testing of all suspected cases on-site, isolation and management of all positive cases at the affected schools, quarantine of all learners that have been exposed at their schools and restriction of movement into and out of the affected learning institutions.
The measures appear sound on paper, but without the authorities availing enough resources the situation in schools can only get worse.
Once again, we implore the authorities to address the public transport situation in urban areas as part of measures to deal with the localised Covid-19 outbreaks in schools.
Thousands of schoolchildren use public transport every day and since schools reopened, they have been caught up in the confusion caused by the lack of adequate buses in urban areas.
Commuters end up spending several hours in crowded termini as they scramble to get transport to their destinations.
There is hardly any social distancing at the termini and in some of the buses that commuters, that include school children, are forced to use.
The potential for the localised Covid-19 outbreaks to spread under such circumstances into communities is huge, hence the need for a response that leaves no one behind.