HARARE – The true spread of the coronavirus in schools is shrouded in secrecy as the government is sensitive to having its decision to re-open schools questioned, human rights doctors have said.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) says only increased testing will give a true picture of the virus spread in the country, and lead to a marshalling of an appropriate national response.
On Monday, the ministry of health reported 112 new cases including two deaths. In all, 11,358 cases have been declared, of which 9,554 have recovered.
The government re-opened schools in a phased approach starting in September, after they closed prematurely in March when the respiratory illness landed.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa last week said 332 pupils had tested positive for the coronavirus since September, but unions say the figures are fudged as the government tiptoes around a potential backlash from parents.
The latest school to be the focus of the fast-spreading virus is Dadaya Mission in Masvingo which reported that 32 pupils had tested positive last week. Even before the rest of the pupils got their results, some parents reportedly stormed the school and took away their children.
At John Tallach in Matabeleland North, 184 pupils and teachers were found to have caught the virus. Over a dozen other schools have reported outbreaks, including Matopo (10 cases) and Mtshabezi (11) in Matabeleland South; Chinhoyi High in Mashonaland West (88) and Anderson High School in the Midlands (20).
The ZADHR said: “Recent data points to widespread community transmission of Covid-19 in the country and worrying foci of cases in schools. The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) leadership further asserted that secrecy, fear, and mistrust are also complicating the true assessment of the extent of Covid-19 in schools.
“ZADHR calls for an urgent review of the country’s response to Covid-19. Testing rates must be urgently upscaled and made proportionate to the threat posed by a second wave of Covid-19, intensive care capacity for handling complicated cases assessed and where possible increased.”
PTUZ secretary general Raymond Majongwe last week said teachers were being sworn to secrecy by the ministry of primary and secondary education which is obsessed with painting a sunshine picture of the situation in schools.
Ministers “trust officials reporting from their offices instead of unions that have personnel on the ground,” the PTUZ said.
“Zimbabwe is not and was never ready for Covid-19 at schools. It has neither the professional nor technical competence to deal with the virus,” the union added.
The ZADHR proposed that the government rolls out a targeted vaccination campaign which initially prioritises high risk groups and the vulnerable.
“Furthermore, a new policy thrust that enhances safety and protection of groups at higher risk of mortality and morbidity from Covid-19 must be considered,” the doctors added in a statement.