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110 Free State teachers contract COVID-19

Staff Reporter

About 110 teachers in the Free State have contracted the coronavirus since the phased reopening of schools started early June, Education MEC Tate Makgoe said.

He said this Tuesday in response to a question from Economic Freedom Fighters member of the provincial legislature, Malefane Johannes Msimanga, who wanted to know, among other things, how many learners and staff had been infected in the province since school restarted.

“About 110 teachers, 51 learners, 12 office-based officials — including subject advisers and those based at district and province offices — and 21 non-teaching staff at the schools have been affected,” Makgoe responded during the virtual legislature sitting.

This means about 194 individuals in the provincial school system have contracted the disease over the past month.

Makgoe also took the opportunity to respond to criticism that children’s lives were at risk as most schools were not ready to receive them.

He said given the current statistics, children are much safer from COVID-19 when they go to school than when they stay home because their interactions cannot always be monitored.

“International evidence demonstrates that — and even here in our own province — children who are below 19 years of age are least affected by COVID-19,” the MEC said.

“Even from the statistics I have just given, despite that there are much more learners in schools than teachers, the biggest number of people who have tested positive were teachers. So, it shows that indeed science is correct.”

Makgoe said even the courts have ruled in their favour saying learners, particularly the younger ones, should not be kept at home as their chances of being affected by COVID-19 were minimal.

The MEC said the provincial education department has been very risk averse in its approach to the reopening of schools were children have been allowed back in small numbers to avoid congestion.

He said the department is convinced the strategy is appropriate and learners can safely return to school rather than stay home.

“I think the other reason we have advanced as the department of education is that it is safer for children to be at school,” Makgoe said.

“Most of us who have stayed in the townships know what is happening during the day when kids go to play outside.

“They are exchanging toys, playing . . . and so forth, and then go back home without being tested.

“But at least at school, when the child arrives every day, there will be a screening process which includes, amongst others, taking the temperature, filling in a screening questionnaire and teachers have also been trained to be able to identify some of the symptoms of the disease.”

He added that the systems at schools had been tested and have proven to be able to pick up challenges.

As at July 7, the Free State had recorded 2 803 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

There were 565 recoveries and 19 deaths, leaving the province with 2 219 active cases.

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