Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Thursday night announced that all schools, closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, may re-open and give face-to-face classes as from Monday.
Addressing the nation, Nyusi said this government decision applies to all institutions of primary, secondary, technical, professional and higher education. He did not mention pre-school education.
Nyusi justified the reopening of schools on the grounds that there is little evidence of transmission of Covid-19 inside Mozambican schools. Between October 2020 and January 2021, 1,380 Covid-19 infections were notified among students and teachers, which was 4.6 per cent of all cases reported in this period. None of these cases was clinically serious, and it could not be shown that these infections were transmitted within schools.
Nyusi warned that, depending on the evolution of the disease in Mozambique, some schools, or even entire regions of the country, "could interrupt their face-to-face teaching activities or begin them at a later date".
All educational institutions must observe Covid-19 prevention measures. These include regular washing of hands (which implies that schools without a reliable supply of water will be unable to re-open), social distancing (which will restrict the size of classes), and the wearing of face masks.
The national football championship, known as Mocambola, remains on hold, but the 14 teams that compete in the championship are allowed to resume training. Nyusi said the training will be conditional on every player taking a weekly Covid-19 test.
All the other restrictions announced in previous government decree remain in force - including the curfew in the Greater Maputo Metropolitan Area. The curfew affects Maputo, the adjacent city of Matola and Boane and Marracuene districts, and runs from 21.00 to 04.00.
The government did not take the advice of those who called for the curfew to begin at 23.00 rather than 21.00, and it is not yet clear how the curfew can be made compatible with night classes in the reopened schools.
The government also rejected the call from prominent epidemiologist Avertino Barreto that the curfew should be extended to other major cities such as Beira, Nampula and Quelimane.
The restrictions on the sale of alcoholic drinks remain in force. So all bars, and all stalls or kiosks whose main business is the sale of alcohol remain closed. Licensed bottle stores, shops and supermarkets may sell alcohol between 08.00 and 13.00 Monday to Saturday, but all sales of alcohol are banned on Sundays.
"All of us - and I mean all of us, without any exceptions - must apply ourselves to implementing these measures", said Nyusi. "There are still cities in Mozambique where very few people are wearing masks".
So the government has decided to step up its measures to compel citizens to wear masks in public places including markets, supermarkets and shopping centres.
"There are still a lot of people who think this disease is somebody else's problem", said Nyusi. "But we must all act as a single army. If we do not all win, then we will all be defeated".
"This is a combat in which there are not two sides", declared the President. "We are all on the same side. Our government has devoted its greatest attention to the field of prevention, because it is in the field of prevention that public health battles are won".
But the government had also worked to strengthen the hospitals, in terms of equipment, staff and medicines, and was striving to obtain vaccines against Covid-19 as quickly as possible.
Although there had recently been a decline in the rate of occupation of intensive care beds, the country was still experiencing worrying levels of transmission and of positivity (the percentage of people tested found to be carrying the virus). Nyusi put the overall positivity rate at 14 per cent, but in Maputo it was 20 per cent, very high by the standards of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which warns that rates above 10 per cent should lead to social restrictions.
"This picture advises us to act with prudence and to create time for us to stabilise any gains we have made", said Nyusi. "That's the nature of this disease. The curves of transmission grow rapidly, but then take a long time to drop. That's why we have to act responsibly. We have all, government and citizens, made important positive steps. But these steps only make sense if they are duly consolidated".
Vaccines "will be an enormous help in our battle against Covid-19", he continued. "But they will not be a miracle. They will complement the collective prevention we have been dealing with since the start of the pandemic".