Even when open, Covid-19 dealt schools a heavy blow

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Even when open, Covid-19 dealt schools a heavy blow
Even when open, Covid-19 dealt schools a heavy blow

Africa-PressUganda. Schools across the country yesterday closed for 42 days following the directive by President Museveni on Sunday that aims to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The Sunday directive came just one year after the country started easing restrictions following three months of total lockdown.Mr Museveni said the closure of schools delinked more than 15 million students from the virus cycle, significantly lowering the infection rates.

However, with last year’s reopening, the contagious virus had already hit 27 schools in 17 districts with 803 cases confirmed and one death, according to the government information issued last week.

The affected institutions include; 10 nursing schools, 11 secondary schools, seven primary schools, one Primary Teachers College (PTC) and one tertiary institution. Last week, a female student at St. Mary’s Girls SS in Madera, Soroti District reportedly succumbed to Covid-19.

As a result, a section of parents have blamed Covid-19 cases in schools on the laxity of teachers in enforcing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).Ms Agnes Anaso, a parent and resident of Soroti City, says some teachers do not care about Covid-19 and focus on getting money through moonlighting in various schools.

“Many teachers, especially those in secondary schools, mix up with unsuspected groups of people as well as students. Some teach in more than one school and these could be the ones spreading this virus among learners,” she says.

However, the Soroti Resident City commissioner, Mr Robert Adiama, acknowledges the fears from the parents, but also blames them for defying Covid-19 the preventive measures.

“We are fighting a war [against Covid-19] where every stakeholder has to play his /her part, but some people in the community are not bothered,” he says.

Dr Wilson Etolu, the officer in charge of Covid-19 unit at Soroti Regional Referral Hospital, says a couple of children from St Mary’s Girls School, Soroti are under quarantine as they await for results of their Covid-19 samples.

Mr Simon Peter Edoru Ekuu, the Soroti District chairperson, says together with Village Health Teams (VHTs) they have launched a door-to-door campaign to sensitise residents on SOPs.

In total disregard of government guidelines ,a section of schools allowed students in some classes to report to school before the official reporting dates .Many primary schools, especially private ones, had pupils in lower classes (Kindergarten, P.1,P.2,P.3 ) even when they were supposed to officially report on June 7. RecommendationsDue to the surging Covid-19 cases, some top government technocrats had recommended to President Museveni that pupils in lower primary classes who had not reported back to school remain at home.

Mr Abubaker Ssenkubuge, a parent in one of the schools in Wakiso District, says it was possible that many schools had already been hit by Covid-19, but the administrators were concealing information to enable the learners to complete the school term.

In Yumbe District, the head teacher of Drachia Hill Primary School in Kei Sub-county, says the school had not registered any Covid-19 case, but the low coverage of the syllabus posed a big challenge to learners resulting into poor performance.

“During the period of Covid-19, curriculum management has become difficult because of the short duration of the school term. Before the schools were closed in March, 2020, teachers had covered few topics in first term and when the schools re-opened, the teachers had to start from where they stopped , resulting into low coverage of the syllabus,” he says, adding that some learners did not report back to school.

Ms Lucy Lekuru, the head teacher of Nipata Secondary School in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement says, though they had registered some Covid-19 cases at the school, teaching and learning went on.

“About four cases of Covid-19 have been registered in our school and the victims are currently in the isolation centre. I thought these cases would cause fear among students, but they have continued to attend lessons, but strictly observing SOPs more than ever before,” she says.

Masaka District inspector of schools, Mr Gerald Nsambu says they managed to handle the Covid-19 situation well through continuous assessment and inspection of schools. Masaka Regional Referral hospital director, Dr Nathan Onyachi, says they have two Covid-19 patients receiving treatment at the facility while more than 40 others were being monitored from home.

Mr Patrick Zziwa, the Bukomansimbi District Education officer, says he couldn’t rule out the possibility that some schools in the area were affected and school managers were silent.

“We hear some reports that some learners in many schools have signs and symptoms similar to those of Covid-like flu, but schools heads are not sharing this information. We are going to carry out our own investigations ,” he said before the presidential directive.

Mr Farouk Musuuba, the head teacher of Njeru Primary School in Buikwe District, says they had established a well-equipped isolation room at the school to handle Covid-19 cases once detected.

Mr Erias Kisambira, the Jinja District inspector of school, says at least 90 per cent of the schools were observing SOPs. However, there were some that were reluctant. “We are going to get tough on the remaining 10 per cent,” he warned before the shutdown of schools.

In Moyo District, Ms Rose Allia, the head teacher of Toloro Primary School says, they had not recorded any Covid-19 case which she attributed to strict observance of SOPs.

In south western Uganda, Mr James Mwesigye, the Mbarara Resident City Commissioner, says some eight students of Maryhill High School were placed under isolation after presenting signs and symptoms similar to those of Covid-19.“When a school registers cases, they isolate the victims, that is what the management of Maryhill did,” he says.

A mini-survey carried out by Monitor in different schools in Mbarara City revealed that there was laxity in observing SOPs.At Mbarara Visionary Primary School in Kakiika, Mbarara City North, some pupils were seen freely interacting with each other during lunch time with no masks and teachers were wearing masks on their chins.However, some schools were vigilant and entry was restricted.

“We measure the temperatures of all our pupils and teachers in the morning and evening,” Mr Nathan Mugume, the head teacher of Mbarara Junior School, says.In Ntungamo, the District Health Officer, Dr Richard Bakamuturaki, says many schools in the area had adjusted to SOPs and learners were safer there than at home.

“I think schools are more secure. When you visit most of our schools, they are strictly enforcing the SOPs. The only challenge is that this wave also affects children and we have no hope of getting a vaccine specifically for the children,” he says.

In Ibanda District, Mr Apollo Kibeherere, the mayor of Ibanda Municipality, says the situation was well managed as head teachers were keenly following the SOPs.

In Maracha District, Mr Samuel Draku, the head teacher of Yivu SS, says they faced a challenge of observing social distance rules in classrooms. “We have a limited number of classroom blocks and desks, but we are trying our best to ensure that we keep our learners safe,” he says.

Mr John Baptist Kimbowa, the Rakai District education officer, says they are lucky that no single case had been registered, an indication that school heads tried to observe SOPs.

Lack of resources

Dr Edward Muwanga, the Kyotera District Health Officer, says they could have loved to test all learners and teachers, but they lacked the resources.

The Sembabule District Education Officer, Mr Paul Bwana, says as Covid-19 cases scaled up in the country, they were carrying out on-spot inspection in all schools to check whether both learners and teachers are adhering to SOPs.

In Bugisu Sub-region, Bududa Senior Secondary School in Bududa District had temporarily closed after nine students tested positive for Covid-19.

“As the district Covid-19 task force, we felt it was wise for us to close the school to prevent further spread of the disease,” Mr George William Wopuwa, the district resident commissioner, says.

Ms Zelesi Nabusayi, the Covid-19 focal person, says they will continue monitoring the affected learners from their homes. Mr Davies Wakoba, the deputy head teacher of Bududa SS, had urged the district Covid-19 task force to conduct Covid-19 tests in other schools as well.

“Since some of these students have been interacting with their colleagues from other schools, it will be wise to test those students as well,” Mr Wakoba said before the presidential address.

Mr Rogers Taitika, the Elgon Regional Police Spokesperson, had said no student or teacher was going to gain access to the school during the 14 days. Last year, Bududa District registered more than 40 Covid-19 cases and four deaths. But since the vaccine was rolled out, there has been a low turn up of both the locals and civil servants.

By yesterday, the country had registered 1,026 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total number of infections to 53,961 since the onset of the pandemic last year. A total of 383 cumulative deaths had been recorded with 47,760 recoveries. A total of 748,676 people had been vaccinated as of Saturday in an exercise that started on March 10 with 964,000 doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

Compiled by Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Wilson Kutamba, Malik Fahad Jjingo, Robert Elema, Scovin Iceta, Robert Atiku, Denis Edema, Eve Muganga, George Muron, Ibrahim Adubango, Felix Ainebyoona, Rajab Mukombozi, Perez Rumanzi, Elly Karenzi, Milton Bandiho, Ronald Kabanza , Leonard mukooli & Fred Wambede.

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