Government’s decision to reduce learning time for primary schools as one way of preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid 19) is not only counter-productive, but also contradicts what other arms of government are interested in achieving, an epidemiologist has said.
Divala, who is also a member of the Society of Medical Doctors, was reacting to a statement from the Ministry of Education Science and Technology (MoEST) that it has reduced primary school knock-off period by an hour.
He said the truth of the matter is that Malawi is not yet at a point where schools can safely open without putting a risk to pupils, their teachers, their families, their communities, and the nation.
He said the statement must be withdrawn and government should initiate consultations with epidemic experts immediately.
Said Divala: “The life-threatening disease we have amidst us is a bigger harm whose prevention needs to be prioritised. We need to consider re-opening only after we have done a serious harm-versus-benefit analysis.
“Key considerations include having a sustained downward trend of new infections or deaths. At the moment, our trend is upwards. Making sure that the health system is ready for large numbers. Right now, our health system is super-burdened. It is at its lowest capacity of all time.”
He said after reopening schools and activities that require large gatherings, and without new treatments or vaccines being available, the disease will bounce right back as has been the case in South Korea, China and Germany.
In a statement dated June 19 2020, signed by MoEST principal secretary (PS) Justin Saidi, the ministry says the reduction was in readiness for re-opening of schools amid Covid-19.
It reads: “As we prepare for opening of schools amid Covid-19, it is important to regulate and consider reducing social distance and time of contact by the learners and teachers.
“This will in a way give chance to both learners and teachers contribute to the prevention and containment of Covid-19.”
Saidi also urged all education authorities responsible for primary schools to revert to the old timetable prior to the change.
In a separate interview, Saidi said the ministry has not confirmed that schools will re-open on July 13 2020 as recommended earlier.
He also said they are also studying how other countries are conducting their studies as number of cases are still rising in the country.
On his part, chairperson for a special task force set up by MoEST on possible re-opening of schools, Lewis Dzimbiri, said they have finalised their research on measures to be followed once schools re-open.
“Naturally, our work is not based on rise or declining figures, but the anticipation is that protection must always be there whether the figure will rise or decline,” he said.
Cumulatively, Malawi has recorded 620 cases, including eight deaths. Of these cases, 458 are imported infections and 143 are locally transmitted while 19 are still under investigation.