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Covid-19: Schools will only close in exceptional cases


“Pupils returning from travel to areas with community spread of Covid-19 must follow guidance on the NICD website,”

AS THE number of coronavirus (Covid-19) patients in South Africa climbed to 17 yesterday, the Department of Education has indicated that schools will only be closed in exceptional cases.

In a circular to provincial education authorities, the department has detailed steps to be followed in an effort to avert the coronavirus adversely affecting teaching and learning.

The interim guidance, said the department, was intended to help administrators of childcare facilities and primary high schools to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among pupils and staff.

“Information provided should help schools understand how to help prevent the transmission of Covid-19. It also aims to help schools react quickly should a case be identified. The guidance includes considerations to help administrators plan for the continuity of teaching and learning if there is a need to quarantine pupils or staff with schools or close schools as a result of the spread,” the circular reads.

Planning and preparing for possible community transmission was vital, the department said.

“Schools should prepare for the possibility of community-level outbreaks as well as possible recommendations from health officials of pupils, staff or whole classes or grades to be quarantined at home,” the circular added.

“School dismissal could be recommended in certain circumstances. Decisions about appropriate public health interventions should always be made in discussion with public health officials with access to all the relevant information.”

This includes information on situations such as when pupils or teachers should remain home from school for a period of time and whether pupils in sections of a school or a whole school should be dismissed.

Closing schools, however, would likely have dire consequences with knock-on effects, the department said.

“All decisions for pupils to stay at home from school based on possible exposure to or infection with Covid-19 should be justified by available scientific evidence.”

The department has urged that teachers and pupils who will be travelling internationally in the next months should consider postponing or cancelling trips that could expose pupils and staff to potential community spread.

“Pupils returning from travel to areas with community spread of Covid-19 must follow guidance on the NICD website,” the department said.

The department’s Director-General, Mathanzima Mweli, in the circular indicated that there was no need to close down schools if a pupil or a staff member has been exposed to a suspected case of the virus while test results were outstanding.

However, reads the circular, the DG notes that all close contacts of a confirmed case needed to self-quarantine at home for 14 days while they are being monitored.

“They may not attend school. Pupils who are not contacts of a confirmed case should not be prevented from attending school. Family and friends who have not had any close contact with the original confirmed case do not need to take any precautions or make any changes to their own activities such as attending childcare or educational settings or work, unless they feel unwell,” said the department.

In the case of a pupil or staff member being confirmed to have contracted the virus, the department and health workers will identify people who have been in contact with the individual and advise on precautions to be taken.

The department said schools will only be temporarily closed should a public health official recommend so.

Meanwhile a special Cabinet meeting on coronavirus will be convened on Sunday to address all matters related to Covid-19.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu made the announcement of the special Cabinet meeting shortly after the Health Minister confirmed four new cases of coronavirus, bringing to 17 the number of cases in the country.

In one case in the Free State, South Africa recorded its first local transmission.

According to the Department of Health, a 32-year-old male came into contact with a Chinese businessman, making it the first case of local transmission, as all other cases have been by patients who had travelled abroad.

Mthembu also announced that President Cyril Ramaphosa would update political parties represented in Parliament, as well as church leaders on Covid-19.

Cabinet also joined the president in wishing the repatriation team well and the South African Airways crew, who departed on Tuesday to the City of Wuhan, Hubei Province, in the People’s Republic of China, to repatriate 122 South Africans.

The medical team from the Department of Health and the Military Medical Defence Force forms part of the repatriation team.

Cabinet expressed its appreciation to South African Airways for its valuable assistance in this repatriation exercise.

The repatriation team and the repatriated South Africans are expected back in the country today.

Upon their return, they will be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days, to a maximum of 21 days. During this period, the movement of people and goods in and out of the quarantine zone will be restricted.

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