Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
COVID-19 containment measures including wearing of face masks will remain in place for all learners in schools and tertiary institutions despite the Government lifting their wearing for fully vaccinated people in public. Graduation ceremonies are also expected to continue under restrictions as the virus is still not completely dealt with. This was said by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) and the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation Science and Technology Development Professor Amon Murwira ahead of schools opening next week.
The MoPSE said it will not issue a statement in isolation as Public Health Emergencies like Covid-19 were a collective effort involving different State stakeholders. However, an official from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education told Sunday News that despite the relaxation on masks by the Government recently, there was no reprieve for learners in the country’s schools, where all Covid-19 protocols remain in place.
“Our Standard Operating Procedures for the prevention and management of Covid-19 and other influenza like illnesses in the Primary and Secondary Education sector still hold. This means that the maintenance of social distancing, wearing of masks, hand hygiene, handling of food utensils in schools have become the new normal.
“Learning takes place in a closed setting, in a classroom and this still requires compliance where wearing of face masks by learners and their teachers remain in place. We are awaiting for the Government to release the relevant Statutory Instrument on how learners will be managed in schools regarding any changes to the current settings where classes were reduced and the wearing of masks.”
After successful implementation of a national vaccination programme for those who are 18 and above, the Ministry of Health and Child Care gave the nod on the vaccination of the 12 to 17 years age group. However, the MoPSE said there were some schools that were still to meet vaccination targets of their learners.
“There are some secondary schools that have not met the 70 percent threshold of double vaccination and we stand guided by the Ministry of Health and Child Care on how this will also be managed. This is a public health issue and the delivery of education during an emergency like Covid-19 is guided by protocols as directed by the Government. The Provincial Medical Directors are working hand in hand with the Provincial Education Directors of various provinces to ensure there are safe working areas for both learners and their teachers,” said the official
Turning to visits at boarding schools, the ministry said they were waiting for the greenlight from the Health Ministry. Visits have been banned to ensure there was no spread of the virus. With regards to graduation ceremonies in tertiary institutions, Prof Murwira said there was a need for extra caution as the cases of Covid-19 were still being recorded.
“We have been successful as a nation in fighting this virus but now it is a situation in the graduation setting, whether the students are few or not. We want to do our graduations in a safe environment as possible. Our aim is to protect our students and ourselves from the virus,” he said.
Prof Murwira said the ministry was putting in mechanisms for safe graduations so that there were no regrets. “We always analyse the situation and we encourage students to be patient as we do not want to put their lives in danger during graduations, we cannot endanger the same graduates and the rest of the people who will want to be there,” he said.
He further said face masks were not a form of punishment but a protection mechanism. He said the Government continues to encourage people to get fully vaccinated. In a Post-Cabinet Briefing last week, Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Senator Monica Mutsvangwa reported that a majority of schools have managed to vaccinate their learners.
“Cabinet reports that out of the 2 615 registered secondary schools nationwide, a total of 1 942 (73 percent) have reached a vaccination coverage of 70 percent or more. Schools that have not reached the 70 percent vaccination coverage are mostly in Harare Metropolitan, Manicaland and Midlands provinces. Cabinet agreed that schools in these provinces must set up vaccination desks as they register learners for the schools reopening in September 2022. This approach is expected to help identify and mop up all secondary learners who have not been vaccinated and hence ensure that they are all vaccinated before they resume classes,” said Sen Mutsvangwa.