Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture:THAPELO MOREBUDI/THE SUNDAY TIMES
Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture:THAPELO MOREBUDI/THE SUNDAY TIMES

The reopening of schools will depend entirely on the success of the national lockdown, basic education minister Angie Motshekga says.

She urged South Africans to comply with the stay-home rules that the government has imposed to curb the transmission of Covid-19.

Up to Wednesday, SA had 709 confirmed cases of Covid-19, a contagious respiratory disease caused by the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus.

The number of cases has grown rapidly since the first case was announced on March 5, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster and to implement a national lockdown with effect from midnight on Thursday.

Schools closed on March 18 and were initially slated to resume teaching on April 15. But the lockdown means they will remain closed until at least April 20.

“When our children go back to school is in our hands. The next three weeks are crucial,” Motshekga said on Thursday, adding that it was vital South Africans limited social contact as much as possible to slow the progression of Covid-19.

Covid-19 has rapidly swept around the world since it first emerged in China late last year, prompting an increasing number of countries to impose restrictions on mass gatherings, travel, and to close schools and universities to reduce transmission of the virus.

By Thursday, the global number of reported cases of the disease had surged past the 463,000 mark, with more than 21,100 deaths in 175 countries and regions, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

Motshekga said SA’s school nutrition programme, which provides meals to 9.6-million primary and secondary schoolchildren, could not be maintained during the lockdown. The department of social development would be working with non-governmental organisations to support vulnerable children by providing food parcels to their families, as it did during the school holidays.

“With all the pain it brings, we cannot feed outside the sector,” she said after a meeting with provincial health ministers and heads of department, known as the Council of Education Ministers.

The department of basic education was finalising guidelines on how to prepare for the reopening of schools and had worked with the provinces to prepare online, television and radio learning materials.

She acknowledged that some households did not have the means to use these resources, and said the government’s focus remained on plans to catch up on lost classroom time when children returned to school.

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