An infectious disease expert has urged great caution over the reopening of schools in Malawi in the face of coronavirus surge, saying children could be as infectious as adults.
Schools have been closed in Malawi since March 23.
But on Saturday President Lazarus Chakwera in his national address said schools that will meet set Covid-19 requirements will open early September.
He said guidelines have already been developed on what schools need to do to reopen safely.
Said Chakwera “In fact, we will start assessing the readiness of each school this coming week so that the schools that meet our safety standards can reopen in early September.”
But epidemiologist Titus Divala urges government to maintain a cautionary approach, saying re-opening of schools should be informed by evidence that benefits outweigh harm.
Divala said there should be steps to deal with the impact of social distancing in the classroom.
“There must be open spaces in classrooms and communities should be engaged adequately and given roles to support public health measurers in schools,” said the infectious disease expert.
Divala said there are several requirements and recommendations for limiting and monitoring the risk of Covid-19 transmission in schools: masks required for children, desks spaced, and regular hand-washing, among others.
The epidemiologist caution comes at the time of an uptick in virus pandemic cases.
He said schools could spark community outbreaks. Most countries were quick to order school closures as the virus spread, and research on infection within schools and between children and adults is still in early stages.
The health expert said there are too many uncertainties and variables for back-to-school to be back-to-normal.
“The unfortunate thing that will happen is that once we reopen the number of cases may increase again, the number of deaths may increase again. So what will happen is that now there will be a huge burden on an innocent sector that has single-handedly fought the epidemic from the beginning, health sector,” he said.
Meanwhile, Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) has demanded government to offer teachers risk allowances in the wake of Covid-19 if the schools were to open.
“We want risk allowances just like healthcare workers and also for government to provide us with personal protective equipment (PPE),” said Charles Kumchenga the TUM secretary general.
He said the demand of risk allowance and PPEs were presented during a meeting with the Ministry of Education’s Task Force on re-opening of schools in April this year, three months before Chakwera’s announcement on Saturday.
Kumchenga said they believe the Tonse Alliance led administration is a listening government and that it will respond to them positively.
Meanwhile, child marriage has almost doubled in parts of Malawi; the situation has worsened dramatically as a result of the school closures and rise in poverty linked to the coronavirus outbreak.
Amos Zaindi, country director of Care International in Malawi, said: “Before Covid-19, Malawi had a high rate of child marriage. With schools closed and increased poverty, the situation is getting worse.”
The number of people found with Covid-19 virus in Malawi has passed the 5 000 mark and 157 deaths.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :