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Government rules out school closure

As schools record Covid cases

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Benedicto Kondowe

The Covid-19 second wave has hit tertiary education institutions hard, with three public universities registering eight cases, and two deaths in the past one week.

This is happening barely two weeks after schools opened for the 2020/21 academic year.

However, Ministry of Education (MoE) officials have ruled out the possibility of closing schools.

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The nightmare for some tertiary education institutions started when one of University of Malawi’s constituent colleges, The Polytechnic, recently acknowledged that one of its students tested positive for Covid-19 on January 8.

It further indicated, in a statement school officials issued on the issue, that the affected student had been sent home for self-isolation.

According to the statement, the college was, with assistance from Blantyre District Health office, tracing those that came into contact with the Covid-19 positive student.

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Another public tertiary education institution, Mzuzu University (Mzuni), has had its share of coronavirus infections.

Mzuni Registrar Yonamu Ngwira said, as of last Friday, the institution had registered four Covid-19 cases— involving a final-year student and three staff members.

Sadly, two of the affected individuals died from coronavirus infection.

Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), another public university, has three cases of Covid-19 in its records.

Luanar Public Relations Officer Bessie Milanzi identified those infected with coronavirus as two students and one staff member.

Some cases have also been recorded at Blantyre Secondary School, Central High, Mount View and other private schools.

Regardless, MoE officials have emphasised that the policy that is in force, as at now, is to leave schools open.

However, Secretary for Education Chikondano Mussa said the ministry’s decision-making processes would be guided by public health experts.

“The ministry is aware of the rise in cases of Covid-19 in the country. We, as a ministry, are closely monitoring the situation and working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19. Our decision-making will be based on professional advice from public health experts. For now, the policy to have all schools open is what is in force.

“As regards compliance to Covid-19 measures in education institutions, the ministry continues to do assessments and spot-checks to ensure there is full compliance and adherence to all the preventive measures and guidelines that were circulated to all stakeholders,” she said.

Meanwhile, Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 Co- Chairperson John Phuka has said closure of schools would be a strategy of last resort.

“When we closed schools last year, we didn’t know more about the disease than we do now. It was a necessary strategy to close schools even before the first case. We did not know who the disease would affect most; we did not know how to respond and care for each other when sick; we did not know effective preventive measures for Malawi; we did not know how much it would be costing us.

“At this point, it is a very different situation; we know a lot and we know the suffering learners go through when schools are closed. Therefore, closure of schools should be our last resort strategy and not the first this time,” he said.

Phuka added that other stakeholders, notably Local Government and home security officials, had an equally important role to ensure compliance to Covid-19 preventive measures.

“We want all other preventive measures to be followed; so, we, through ministries of Homeland Security and Local Government, are enforcing all the regulations to protect our learners. The Ministry of Health will support the affected schools to ensure disinfection and infection prevention is done as well as contact-tracing,” he said.

Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director Benedicto Kondowe has, meanwhile, applauded the government for taking the position.

He said, while the right to life was a priority, there was a need to put into consideration the right to education before considering the option of closing schools due to rising cases of Covid-19.

A recent update shows that Malawi has registered 269 new Covid-19 cases, 15 recoveries and five new deaths.

Of the new cases, 267 are locally transmitted infect ions: 70 from Lilongwe, 50 from Salima, 45 from Blantyre, 31 from Zomba, 13 from Dowa, nine from Mzimba South, six from Chikwawa, five each from Balaka, Karonga, Mangochi, Mulanje, and Nkhotakota, four from Mwanza, three each from Kasungu and Neno, two from Mchinji and one each from Chiradzulu, Chitipa, Dedza, Ntchisi, Phalombe and Rumphi districts while two imported cases are [those of] new refugees at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa District.

Cumulatively, Malawi has recorded 9,027 cases including 235 deaths.

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