226 days of COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child Care reported that, as of 10 November 2020, the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases increased to 8 610 after 49 new cases were reported. Active cases went up to 284. The total number of recoveries now stands at 8 040 after 17 new recoveries were recorded. The death toll now stands at 255, after 1 new death was recorded.
We note reports indicating that 70% of COVID-19 materials are now being manufactured and procured locally, strengthening the capacity of Zimbabwe to respond and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the face of a resurgence of cases.
- We call upon the support of the COVID-19 materials to be reinforced by systems and measures to support behavioural change and shifts in the population to avoid a COVID-19 spike nationally.
As the past two days represent the first full resumption of school days we reflect on reports regarding the process of opening schools as one of the key elements in COVID-19 management in the country. The position of government is clear that schools are to be re-opened regardless of significant questions regarding the broader context under which schools are set to resume operations. At the same time, we continue to note the position of the Parliament, through the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education that schools should not be re-opened until the necessary safeguards are concretely in place and the context has shifted progressively. The opposing policymakers’ positions are reflective of the mosaic playing out in the reopening of schools, unfortunately to the detriment of learners in particular young girls.
We note reports of very low teacher attendance rates of under 30% nationally which are reflective of the on-going disconnect between teachers and the Employer, Government. Teachers continue to highlight the gross erosion of their wages which are the equivalent of approximately USD$40 and simply argue that they are incapacitated to report for duty. The absence of teachers in classrooms and in schools significantly erodes the capacity of the sector to be practically functional and places multitudes of young persons at risk, threatening the principle of schools being places of safety for young persons. We note with concern the reports of young people engaging in various problematic activities largely due to a lack of real-time supervision in schools namely, underage drinking and smoking, sexual behaviour and activities, bullying and fighting amongst others. These reports are increasingly driving families to withdraw children from schools as a means to safeguard their children. The Government has a legal duty to act in a manner that safeguards the rights and lives of children.
- We call upon government to urgently reconsider the proposition to reopen the sector and review tangible measures to make schools functional with teachers in classrooms sustainably.
As we turn and reflect on reports on COVID-19 control measures regarding the resumption of schools, the picture is not positive, unfortunately. The cases of COVID-19 are on a daily increase and rose to as much as 50% last month and are continuing.
Widespread reports from parents indicate that boarding school transport services were not fully adhering to hand sanitization or handwashing prior to boarding, nor was temperature testing widely available. As transport services were also constrained, the practical reality is that buses were congested and therefore back to school transport services were potential super spreader events.
We note further that Schools are reporting inadequate PPE supplies despite the best efforts of Government on this matter. We note with concern some schools charging already strained families as much as USD $5 for branded face masks, creating real barriers for students.
We note further community reports indicating several schools have had students testing positive for COVID-19 which raises concerns at community level in the teaching community regarding the safety of schools in regards to COVID-19.
Critical Emerging Issues
New COVID-19 wave
We note what has been termed as a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Marondera District in the last week, which has been reported with a total 13 new cases being diagnosed. We also note the full resumption of the education sector amidst reports of a fresh COVID-19 wave in the country. Concerned with the increasingly complacent behaviour being exhibited by citizens towards COVID-19 prevention and safety, we therefore urge:
- Increased testing and the ramping up of accessing to testing kits and consumables for Zimbabwe.
- Citizens to observe public health guidelines as they meet and interact in public places.
- Strict implementation of public health and safety protocols in the public transport system.
- Enforcement agents to ensure that physical distancing is upheld by public transport operators.
PPE supplies to support Phase 3 of reopening of schools
We note reports by Government indicating that schools need to procure 10 million washable masks from NatPharm which is facing significant strain in meeting demand and failing to supply adequately.
We note that the Phase 3 re-opening requires three masks per learner and per teacher, yet the much-touted supply of masks by schools has been hindered by the late payment for the masks by government affecting school-based production supply chains.
- We call upon Treasury to expedite payments for critical supplies even as we question why the delays exist in the first place on a national program of such a scale.
- We call upon the Government to desist from a “full steam ahead” approach when we are aware that girls are disproportionally, negatively impacted by being in schools that have limited to zero supervision and increase the vulnerabilities of adolescent girls to risk.
- We note with concern that the reopening of schools appears a strategy to simply dump learners in schools and have no regard for the quality of care and quality of education outcomes that are expected.
Safeguarding women’s and girls’ rights in the time of COVID-19
We continue to bring to the fore, safeguarding women’s and girls’ rights, during COVID-19. This is anchored on the adequate representation of women in decision-making positions within the COVID-19 response structures. We emphasize that women’s solutions should be informed by women’s experiences and lived realities.
We therefore highlight the lack of adequate women’s representation in various COVID-19 structures. We provide the following recommendations:
- A gender lens approach to all COVID-19 preparedness, response and recovery efforts by Government, Parliament, decision-makers, local authorities and other stakeholders.
- Inclusion of more women’s rights organisations in the taskforce structures.
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe