Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera has announced government's plans to reopen schools early September, despite a surge in COVID-19 cases. In his weekly national address Saturday evening President Chakwera said only schools which meet the government’s safety standards on coronavirus prevention will be allowed to reopen.
But health experts warn of further spread of the disease should the schools fail to put up necessary measures to contain the spread.
Malawi’s government announced the indefinite closure of schools on March 20 before the country registered its first three cases of COVID-19, on April 2.
But as of Saturday, Malawi had confirmed 5,026 cases and 157 deaths.
In his weekly national address on Saturday, Chakwera said the decision to reopen the schools stems from strides Malawi is making in its fight against COVID-19.
He says “although the number of those who have been found with the virus has now passed 5,000, only 5% have gotten sick enough to need hospitalization. Even among the 389 health workers, who have contracted the virus, we have lost only one and the rest are in recovery.”
The daily update by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 shows over half of the confirmed cases have so far recovered.
This leaves the country with 2,246 active cases out of nearly 40,000 people so far tested across the county.
Chakwera said such efforts are worth being commended.
He says “It is because of their organization that we are now able to set some benchmarks for the restoration of social order and the recovery of the economy. For instance, in the education cluster of the taskforce, guidelines have already been developed on what schools need to do to reopen safely.”
The move to reopen schools is an apparent response to a request from education activists who last week met Chakwera and told him the closure of schools was jeopardizing the future of students, especially girls.
They cited hundreds of girls across the country who have fallen pregnant and others getting married since the schools closed.
Titus Divala, an expert in epidemics at Malawi’s College of Medicine, warns that the good number of recoveries form COVID-19 should not be a ticket for complacency.
“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.”
Earlier this week, Ministry of Health announced guidelines for school authorities to follow once schools are reopened.
These include temperature checks, documentation of persistent cough or shortness of breath, and routine documentation of students from families affected by COVID-19.
The Health Ministry also recommended washing of hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer for students, wearing a face mask and observing physical distance.
However Chakwera said the government will from this week start assessing the readiness of each school so that only schools that meet safety standards can reopen.