Senegal postpones reopening schools after teachers test positive

2020-06-03 05:58:00 AM

Education ministry says in late night announcement schools will remain shut

02 June 2020 - 18:09Agency StaffA classroom near Dakar, Senegal. The country has postponed the reopening of schools after an outbreak of Covid-19 cases among teachers, June 2 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRADakar —With only hours to go, Senegal decided against reopening its high schools on Tuesday under a programme to ease coronavirus restrictions, after a cluster of infections emerged among teachers in the south of the country.

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Classrooms in the poor West African state have been closed since March 16.Students in the last three years of high school — 550,000 out of 3.5-million children in the education system — had been scheduled to return on Tuesday.But in the middle of the night, the education ministry announced the much-awaited move was being delayed “until a later date”.

It said a number of coronavirus cases had been detected among teachers in Casamance, a region in Senegal's far south.Ahead of the scheduled return, many teachers, parents and students had voiced fears about the risk of infection.They said schools were under-equipped and social distancing and other coronavirus prevention measures were impossible to impose.

The country has officially counted more than 3,700 cases of CovidOVID-19, including 43 deaths.As with other African countries, the pandemic has been relatively contained, but the weak state of Senegal's health system has stirred many doubts about its ability to withstand major spread.

These concerns stand in contrast to a clamour for an easing of restrictions in a country where 40% of the population live below the threshold of poverty, according to the World Bank, and where many people survive on menial day-to-day labour.The World Health Organisation says it fears a 'silent epidemic' in Africa due to the low level of testing.

In the last few weeks, the media showed reassuring pictures of cleaners scrubbing classrooms.But social media showed a different image: footage of crowds of children and teachers waiting for buses in parking lots without any social distancing and pictures of poorly equipped schools, some of which had only limited access to water.

Internet users itemised masks, soap and detergent that had been distributed to schools, highlighting the lack of supplies compared with the scale of the need.Teachers infected An education ministry official told the radio station RFM that 10 teachers had been infected in the Ziguinchor region, the capital area of Casamance.

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President Macky Sall “decided to postpone the return to school to a later date to prevent any risk of spread”, the ministry said.He called on the authorities to “continue with work that is already under way” for a resumption, the ministry said.Senegal swiftly introduced preventive measures against coronavirus after the first case surfaced on March 2.

The government imposed a raft of restrictive measures but no lockdown under a state of emergency that has just been extended until the end of June.A decision is expected in the coming days on whether some measures should be lifted, including a night-time curfew and a ban on travel between regions.

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