Union calls for temporary school closure in South Africa

The Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) has called for the temporary closure of schools in South Africa as a third Covid-19 wave grips the country.

The union has questioned the move to a level 3 lockdown, and the introduction of further restrictions while still allowing teaching to continue as normal. It called on its members to withdraw from schools this week to protest the decision.

The union’s Western Cape chairperson Andre de Bruyn told EWN that it was almost impossible to keep staff or students safe at schools at the moment, given the rise in Covid cases across the country.

“There is no safe space in a school at the moment. It’s winter, kids get sick, it’s very difficult (to uphold) social distance. Our stance is close schools now. We’re on the front line, we feel that people are scared,” he said.

The union’s comments follow a media briefing held by basic education minister Angie Motshekga on Saturday (19 June), in which she confirmed that schools across South Africa will stay open for now.

Lost teaching time is a major part of the government’s decision to keep schools in the country open despite the resurgence of a third Covid-19 wave, she said.

We believe that schools must remain open and in saying so we are not insensitive to the concerns raised about the rising infections.”

She said that the education sector has suffered severely in terms of learning and teaching because of the virus outbreak.

Primary school children are set to return to school on 28 July, which is the first day of the third school term. However, high school student will still use a rotational system.

To kickstart the sector, Motshekga said that government will vaccinate 582,000 teachers and teaching staff over a two-week period. The rollout will formally start on Wednesday, 23 June, concluding 8 July, the day before school closures.

“For the next two weeks, we make the clarion call to our school communities to drop all and vaccinate. For us to successfully complete this programme, we will need to keep schools open. Any disruptions would be undesirable,” Motshekga said.

Mixed messages

The government’s business-as-usual approach to schooling comes in stark contrast to its other messaging around the third wave, in which officials are calling on South Africans to avoid all unnecessary movement and social contact.

Speaking to 702 on Monday, acting minister of health Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said that the rising number of infections in the country was a deep concern – particularly in Gauteng.

Gauteng has emerged as the epicentre of South Africa’s third wave of Covid-19 infections, with hospitals warning of diminishing bed capacity as active cases escalate. While the provincial health department assures that the situation is under control, private hospitals say they are running out of space.

The country recorded 37,240 new cases over the weekend (Friday to Sunday), almost two-thirds of which were in Gauteng. Daily infections in the province have surpassed the numbers seen in the first and second waves. People in the province have been urged to act as if they are in a tighter lockdown than is currently set nationally, to prevent further spread of infection.

Kubayi-Ngubane said that a similar trend of rising cases is being tracked in other provinces as well, but things are especially bad in Gauteng. She said that far too many super-spreader events and meetings are taking place in the province, and urged residents to stay home and stay safe.

As of 20 June, 13,155 new cases of Covid-19 have been recorded, taking the total reported in the country to 1,823,319. Deaths have reached 58,702 (+112), while recoveries have climbed to 1,647,503, leaving the country with a balance of 117,114 active cases.

Read: Schools will remain open in South Africa, says Motshekga

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