• Panic as Prince Marina Hospital records 31 cases in Aug
• Ngamiland registers 4 Covid-19 cases
• Greater Gaborone schools re-open amid rising cases
• Covid-19 could wreak havoc in schools - BOSETU
• MoBE refuses to defer school calendar, exams underway
Botswana could be losing control in the fight against Covid-19 as cases recorded in local health facilities continue to escalate, putting the country’s response measures in doubt.
Local transmission cases are increasing on a daily basis even as the Ministry of Basic Education has vowed to re-open schools to full capacity next week, notwithstanding that schools were recently found to be the main source of widespread infections.
A shocker came on Friday when Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone revealed that 31 positive Covid-19 cases were confirmed from the country’s busiest referral health facility. The hospital revealed that 16 staff members and 15 patients tested positive for Covid-19 respectively. In an internal memo, Hospital Superintendent at Princess Marina Dr Tshepho Machacha said all those who tested positive are admitted at Sir Ketumile Maisire Teaching Hospital for treatment. Dr Machacha also disclosed that all close contacts are under quarantine, noting that there are those who tested positive twice and have been released from the quarantine.
“The rate of infection at the medical wards is alarming therefore we kindly encourage proper use of PPE. All members of staff are strongly encouraged to adhere to Covid-19 guidelines. The hospital will retain staff on infection prevention control,” Dr Machacha said in the August 19 memo.
Teacher trade union BOSETU has warned government over her refusal to suspend the current school calendar due to increasing Covid 19 cases recorded in schools.
Five (5) schools in Greater Gaborone were at the center of the recent lockdown, which was only lifted last Friday. Positive cases were confirmed at Terrence Private School, Mogoditshane Senior, Masa primary, Bonnington Junior, Botswana Open University with Tshikenyega primary affected at Mahalapye. According to Tobokani Rari, Secretary General of Botswana Sectors of Educators Union (BOSETU), re-opening schools within greater Gaborone zone is a huge risk to the safety of both teachers and students taking into consideration that Gaborone is a red zone.
Rari said their position is that the 2020 school calendar should be extended to April 2021 to allow Covid-19 to stabilize first as it is invading schools. “We are not calling for the total closure of schools or suspension of 2020 school calendar. Our proposal to Ministry of Basic Education was that this academic year be pushed to April 2021. Covid-19 has found its way into schools and this is a big concern. We will regret,” he moaned.
He elaborated that MoBE said academic calendar could not be extended as it will affect tertiary institutions not to have first year students as this year form 5 students should progress to them.
Furthermore, Rari regretted that government through Minister Fidelis Molao have made it a habit to brag to the nation through state media that schools are ready and safe for learning.
Molao had announced earlier that all greater Gaborone schools are ready for reopening adding that this is a false narrative as schools are not extensively assessed. “The health protocols have been set by ministry of health not education. Therefore, the schools readiness shall be determined by Director of Public Health not the minister or his team. This is just a big compromise because we have observed that not all schools are ready,” said Rari.
Prior to school reopening, after the two months first lockdown, teacher unions were skeptical about readiness of schools but government insisted it was all systems go to resume learning. Rari maintains that Covid-19 could have found a way into school yards for reasons being that, schools were never ready to reopen or were ready but government just dropped ball on a way. He also said the class size is a cause for concern as classes is expected to accommodate 30 students but this he insists could defeat social distancing as some classrooms are smaller. So, he wants ministry of basic education to ensure strict compliance to set health protocols.
Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) President Gotlamang Oitsile was not available for comment as his mobile phone rang unattended while BTU Secretary General Agang Habana’s phone was off.
Furthermore, BOSETU is concerned that greater Gaborone students would also be subjected to writing national mock examinations next week despite have spent two weeks without learning.
Rari says the students from the Gaborone region have been the most affected by the lockdowns. He noted that it is unfair for students in the region to write mock exams as they are not ready. “Greater Gaborone zone alone went under three disruptive lockdowns combined starting with hard nationwide on April to May. The recent two weeks lockdown has totally caused damage to learning. There is no way students would be ready for the exams, it’s a disaster made,” he said.
Rari is of the view that students from Gaborone zone are being not treated fairly, noting that government lies to the nation by saying students are learning online while they are at home. This false narrative of digital learning held by government, he said must be fully condemned. “I don’t know who the education officials or government technocrats are fooling when every time they take podium at national television claim that students are learning online. When did they give students or our teachers equipment to facilitate such said learning?’’ said furious Rari.
Basic Education Minister Fidelis Molao insists that learning will continue despite heavy criticism. In a televised press briefing on Tuesday Molao said after assessments made in schools they have been given a green light for completing classes to resume learning. He said all completing students nationwide would be writing national mock exams on August 24 without greater Gaborone zone excused despite BOSETU’s concern that students are not ready.
In addition, boarding students in Gaborone zone who are not final students according to Molao would in the meantime remain locked at their schools as they await the classes to resume too. Classes for non-completing students from greater Gaborone would resume on September 1.
Minister for Tertiary Education Dr Douglas Letsholathebe wasn’t available for comment as his phone was off as some tertiary institutions recently announced positive cases of Covid-19 too.