Picture: PAYLESSIMAGES / 123RF
Picture: PAYLESSIMAGES / 123RF

The Gauteng education department will be strictly monitoring the Covid-19 infection rate among Grade 7 pupils to see whether it is possible for all high school pupils to return to school, says MEC Panyaza Lesufi.

As a result of social distancing requirements, the majority of primary and high schools are following a rotational timetable where pupils attend class on alternate days.

All primary school pupils are expected to return to class on a daily basis from August 2.

Gauteng has passed the third wave of the pandemic and Wits University professor of vaccinology Schabir Madhi says an increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths after the violent protests and looting two weeks ago is unlikely to happen in the province. 

“Before the protests started, we had already seen a peak in community cases and the highest percentage were already affected,” Madhi said on Monday.

“Gauteng is over the worst, so we should start seeing a decrease in the number of deaths taking place. It is unlikely for an increase again any time soon. The prediction would be that it would continue to decrease day by day. Johannesburg is pretty much in a downward trajectory now.”  

Lesufi said as schools reopened for the third term, his department would use the primary schools “as a model and check the numbers over the next three weeks”.

“If the numbers are not scary, then we will go back to the drawing board to try to find a way of bringing back all the high school learners.”

He said they would be meeting Gauteng premier David Makhura on Tuesday “to determine and check the figures”.

“If the figures are not that bad, we really believe we can motivate that high school learners can come back. The reality is we have lost academic time and it’s devastating, I must be honest.

“We can have a generation that might have missed school if we are not careful, so the sooner we bring everyone [back], the better,” said Lesufi.

He stressed, however, that it must be done within “the strict regulations of Covid-19”.

“We must not be reckless as well. The balance is delicate and it’s going to be very difficult for us to know whether we are succeeding or not.”

The Sunday Times reported on Sunday that principals were informed during a meeting with Gauteng education department officials on Thursday that they need not “strictly enforce” the 1m social distancing requirement when all primary school pupils returned on August 2.

According to a slide presentation made during the meeting, the national standard operating procedures “do not prescribe 1m spacing but promote the principle of striving for 1m distance where possible.”

But basic education minister Angie Motshekga told a media briefing on Saturday that they were working with the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) on whether it was possible to reduce the social distancing from 1.5m to 1m.

Lesufi confirmed that they had received applications from 4,000 teachers indicating they had comorbidities and could not come back to work.

“We still have to do an audit of the 4,000 to see how many of them hadn’t vaccinated. We must check their health status and together with their doctors determine if indeed if it is genuine that they can come back or not. We are still doing that audit.”

He said it was a huge figure, adding: “There’s no way we can say [all] learners must come back and still have 4,000 educators staying at home. It’s not going to balance.”

This was the reason they asked Motshekga not to bring all primary-school children back on Monday this week, he said. “We said give us a week [to] monitor the situation, check our capacity, and then from August 2 we will determine whether everyone should come back or not.”

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