Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
COVID-19 is ripping through educational institutions in the country with latest statistics showing that more than 150 learners and teachers at schools and colleges have tested positive.

Sunday News has gathered that 145 pupils and their teachers in schools in Bulawayo, Harare and Matabeleland North have tested positive while 10 cases have been reported at polytechnic colleges. John Tallach High School in Ntabazinduna, Matabeleland North leads the pack with 140 pupils and four teachers having tested positive resulting in the school being cordoned off.

Wise Owl Primary in Harare has recorded three cases while Emakhandeni Primary School in Bulawayo has recorded two cases. It is also understood that six positive cases were recorded at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic in Gwanda and while four others were reported at Kwekwe Polytechnic recently.

Director of Communications and Advocacy in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Mr Taungana Ndoro told Sunday News yesterday that of the affected schools, John Tallach in Matabeleland North was the most ‘surprising’ looking at the figures.

“Only few schools out of 9 625 schools in Zimbabwe have learners who tested positive for the virus which are John Tallach, Wise Owl (3) and Emakhandeni Primary School (2). John Tallach is a unique case and we are actually surprised as to what happened.

“The rest of the schools in the country are observing Standard Operating Procedures to the book, go to places like Manicaland, Masvingo and the Midlands there are no cases of Covid-19 in schools. Out of the schools that have incidents of Covid-19, some cases really have nothing to do with the schools mentioned, like a teacher at a school in Bulawayo who tested positive for the virus but was actually not attending classes as she claimed she was incapacitated, so it had nothing to do with learners, the school and the education system,” he said.

Mr Ndoro said since the outbreak of Covid-19, schools in the country have intensified precautions. He dismissed rumours that learners at Prince Edward in Harare had been infected by the virus. He also dismissed death rumours at John Tallach that were being spread on social media. Asked on the way forward, Mr Ndoro said learners at John Tallach will be kept in the school until further notice.

“Learners are asymptomatic and stable and are quarantined in order to protect their family members because if you take these infected students back to their homes it may become an explosion. A child belongs to a family and going back there may see the family getting infected,” added Mr Ndoro.

Matabeleland North Provincial Medical Director Dr Munekai Padingani said the number of Covid-19 cases at John Tallach increased from the initial 100 that were reported last week. He said learners were on the road to recovery and were stable.
“In terms of cases, they are now 140 pupils and four teachers that have been infected. They are put in cohorts, according to dates they were tested and whether they are asymptomatic or not. Some are positive without being sick and some are sick and are being treated on site,” he said.

Asked on outcomes of preliminary investigations at John Tallach, Dr Padingani said it was difficult to single out a pupil who travelled to South Africa for a funeral who is suspected to have brought the virus.

“It is difficult to answer because we have many cases reported in Bulawayo and we have many students here who tested positive and reside in Bulawayo so we cannot incriminate that one who went to South Africa. We know that people move up and down so we cannot say it is that student. Investigations are still going on and I cannot say much for now,” he said.

The spike in cases at schools comes when public examinations are expected to start next week. However, Mr Ndoro said Government has made sure there was adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at schools in the form of sanitisers, face masks and washing areas, saying that only a few schools were affected as they had no water supply but Government has assisted in rehabilitating boreholes in schools to ensure there is water in all of them.

Bulawayo has continued witnessing a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases over the past few weeks jolting officials to consider re-introducing a ‘specialised’ lockdown. Of the 74 new cases that the country reported on Friday, 48 were from Bulawayo, according to the Ministry of Health and Child Care statistics.

Bulawayo City Council Director of Health Services Dr Edwin Sibanda said the province was testing people every day and hence the numbers being reported while encouraging the public to be vigilant.

“Our cases in Bulawayo are more local transmission than anything, but once in a while you may get an outsider coming in and infecting a number of people,” he said.

He said a lockdown for Bulawayo was imminent if there was no change of behaviour.

“A lockdown is okay on one side but we also have to worry about its effects socially and economically but it might become necessary at some point. We have no bigger message but to encourage people to stick to the basics, ensure social distancing, use face masks, sanitise all the time and avoid gatherings. If we stop moving around, the virus also stops moving around,” he said.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyati said there was a shebeen and nightclub notoriety in Bulawayo.

“We are concerned, there was a person who lost his car while coming out of a shebeen/brothel at around 3am. We have made arrests of people operating brothels and shebeens. We will continue to make the arrests but we want to send a warning to people who think they are now a law unto themselves. They should not cry foul if stern measures are taken against them. It is also sad that we have recorded some murder cases at some of these spots and shebeens in Harare and Bulawayo and this is a fact,” he said.

Meanwhile, our Harare Bureau reports that the Government will today roll out a nationwide community-based Covid-19 testing study that will accurately pinpoint coronavirus hotspots in order to inform the deployment of tailor-made response strategies for specified communities, as part of a coterie of measures to respond to a possible second wave of the pandemic.

Individuals in more than 7 000 households will be screened for the virus in all 54 districts under the National Sero-Prevalence Survey for Covid-19, which runs up to December 30. The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) will test nearly 4 600 individuals in rural households, while the rest of the study samples will be drawn from urban communities.

NIHR director Professor Nicholas Midzi told our Harare Bureau that only an individual will be tested per household. In Harare Metropolitan province, 1250 people will be tested in 50 communities, while 975 individuals in Manicaland province will be screened in 32 rural communities and seven urban areas. In the Midlands province, 850 people will be tested while 800 tests are set to be administered in Masvingo province. Over 400 individuals will be tested in Bulawayo Metropolitan province, while Matabeleland North and South will each have 375 tests. Mashonaland Central will have 625 people screened, while a further 773 will be tested in Mashonaland East. In Mashonaland West, 800 people will receive the test.

Chief Co-ordinator for the National Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva, said a recent Government survey showed that most communities were no longer adhering to standard Covid-19 preventative guidelines.