A NUMBER of private boarding schools have closed down and sent students home after an alarming increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases at the learning institutions.
According to situational reports released by the Health and Child Care ministry, 399 new COVID-19 cases were recorded on Tuesday, with learning institutions accounting for 58 of the cases.
All the cases are local.
On Monday, 100 Masvingo Teachers’ College students tested positive to the virus.
Days before, 81 students and lecturers at the institution also tested positive.
The rise in confirmed cases has sent panic waves in schools amid an outbreak of a new Omicron COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa and Botswana.
Zimbabwe is yet to record a single case of the variant, but President Emmerson Mnangangwa re-imposed Level 2 lockdown measures on Tuesday to curb the spread of the virus.
According to memos from private schools that were sent to parents and seen by NewsDay, authorities said they were forced to close to control the spread of the virus.
“The letter serves to inform you that we have just received information that a member of our community has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus,” a memo from Heritage School dated November 30, 2021 signed by the school head teachers, F Manyanga , B Mate and C Mhike reads in part.
“It is, therefore, prudent that as a school, we take immediate action to control the situation by closing the school with immediate effect. It is unfortunate that we have had to take this action but we feel it is in the best interest of our community.
“Our Year 7 classes will continue with their Zimsec [Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council] examinations. They should be brought to school at 7:45am and they should be picked up soon after their examinations. Boarders may be collected from Acacia House starting on Wednesday December 1, 2021 from 8am. The end of year school reports will be sent via email.”
NewsDay saw more similar memos from three private boarding schools whose authenticity it could not confirm.
Primary and Secondary Education ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro said the ministry was aware that some private schools had closed due to COVID-19.
“Yes, we are aware that some private schools have taken steps to contain the spread of the pandemic, which include closing their schools, which is, however, not in line with the national policy on dealing with COVID-19 cases,” he said.
“The matter is under investigation and we are yet to get a full report. The schools should adhere to the COVID-19 protocols, which include quarantine and isolation, not shutting down schools. This term, we recorded over 4 000 cases within schools, but the pupils recovered even when we did not close the institutions. Private schools should adhere to the government-set calendar.”
At the height of the third wave of the pandemic, government shut down schools to curb the surge in COVID-19 cases within learning institutions across the country.
Government was also forced to cut the school calendar.
Meanwhile, government yesterday issued Statutory Instrument (SI) 267 of 2021, giving effect to controversial travel regulations for returning citizens and foreign visitors, including other lockdown measures announced by Mnangagwa.
As part of the new travel regulations, returning citizens and foreigners are supposed to undergo a PCR test and mandatory quarantine for 10 days at an institution chosen by government despite having a COVID-19 negative test.
The new travel regulations are seen as promoting border jumping.
“For the purposes of this paragraph, a returning resident or visitor found to be negative for COVID-19 may self-quarantine at any premises cleared for the purpose in advance by any enforcement officer acting on the instructions on the Ministry of Health,” the SI read in part
This is despite the fact that Zimbabwe has not recorded a single case of the new variant.
Cross-Borders Traders Association president Killer Zivhu questioned the reason for government to quarantine people with COVID-19 negative test results.
He said the measures would hit cross-border traders.
“In short, the government has decided to close its borders to foreigners in a diplomatic way,” Zivhu said.
“If the government trusts its laboratories and its health staff who do the COVID-19 testing, why then would they quarantine someone who has tested negative for more than 10 days.
“Cross-border traders were hoping that the festive season would open up businesses to improve their livelihoods, but their hopes have been shattered by the mandatory quarantine measure.”
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said the new travel measures promoted border jumping.
“The position taken by the government to impose a mandatory quarantine on all the visitors, including Zimbabwean citizens whether vaccinated or not and whether COVID-19 positive or negative who are coming from outside the country, poses some serious logistical challenges to implement and enforce,” Rusike told NewsDay.
“Thousands of people are using the land borders and this may encourage some people to evade the official border entry points and use the undesignated entry points along our porous borders, thereby creating an even bigger public health threat of increased COVID-19 transmission.”
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) travel guide issued on November 30 in the face of the new variant, any travel regulations should be based on science.
WHO said travel regulations should be put in place “following a thorough risk assessment process informed by the local epidemiology in departure and destination countries and by the health system and public health capacities in the countries of departure, transit and arrival.”