Eastern Cape Education MEC Fundile Gade fears that 16 pupils who escaped from Makaula Senior Secondary School before getting their Covid-19 coronavirus test results – some of which came back positive – could infect more people.
Gade believes the close to 300 pupils in the Alfred Nzo District Municipality who have tested positive for Covid-19 could have contracted the virus before schools reopened.
He said this on Friday during a visit to Makaula school, where 204 people, including 172 pupils, teachers and non-teaching staff such as school hostel workers, had tested positive.
The MEC expressed concern about a group of 16 pupils who escaped from the school before they got their test results, and 105 other pupils they could have infected.
He said the pupils, who had not been quarantined, came from outside the province. A the time of going to print, their whereabouts were unknown.
“We need to link now with their respective homes and provincial governments at that particular level so that we can quickly stop possible infection [spread by] the 16,” Gade said.
One of the 16 pupils is believed to already have infected some other pupils in another school during a tournament, he said.
“There is a school that got infections [due to] one of the boys who escaped [from Makaula]. He had gone to a tournament in the village and infected almost all the boys whom they were playing with in the tournament,” he said.
The MEC said a massive programme would be launched by his department, as well as the departments of health, social development and public works, to ensure that the pupils who escaped were brought back, and those villagers they might have been in contact with traced.
“That is what my greatest worry is now. It has just moved from the pupils to the villagers, who might be the victims of this crisis at Makaula,” he said.
This week, the provincial health department deployed a team of doctors and tracers to the school.
Sizwe Kupelo, provincial health spokesperson, said this was done so that those who came into contact with the people who had tested positive could be traced, screened and tested to stop the virus from spreading.
The MEC said the delay in reopening schools in the country was also partly to blame for the situation.
“My sense is that the majority of the pupils have picked up this virus before they arrived at the school. There is going to be a need for a wall-to-wall plan that does not just talk about education, but broadly [addresses] how to secure society. Are we still correct to say let’s only test people with symptoms?” he asked.
The MEC also defended the school’s readiness before the reopening because personal protective equipment had not been an issue until the outbreak at the school.
He said government needed to go back to the drawing board to come up with a plan to curb infections, not only at Makaula school, but in the entire Alfred Nzo district.
Gade said it was their own systems of government that picked up the first cohort of pupils who tested positive, and directed that all pupils at the institution get tested.
“That is how this breakthrough came about. It has worked for us because it would have been more disastrous if we had been comfortable with the first 24 who were screened and tested positive, and allowed the rest of the pupils to go out of the school to the villages. We would have been talking a disaster in the villages they are coming from now,” he said.
Kupelo added that some of the hostel assistants at the school had also tested positive for the virus.
“The department is also looking into possibly converting the hostel into an isolation facility as another measure of preventing the further spread of the coronavirus.
“A team of clinicians has been sent to the school to ascertain if the hostel meets the department’s minimum standards for quarantine and isolation facilities. These include, but are not limited to, lighting, rooms that are well ventilated and sanitation services,” said Kupelo.
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