Kenya: Covid-19 - Pressure Mounts on Govt to Close Schools in Lake Region

The government has ruled out closure of schools to contain the surge of Covid-19 cases in the Lake region, amid pressure from the local business community for the measure to be taken in the 13 counties placed under partial lock down last week.

But Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha on Wednesday insisted that there was no cause of alarm, noting that the government had put in place sufficient measures to deal with the spike of the pandemic in the region, which has been declared a "disease infected zone."

Local teachers and Kisumu Governor Prof Anyang Nyong'o also opposed closure of schools, saying adults should instead take responsibility by adhering to Covid-19 safety protocols.

They spoke as the business community under the umbrella of Lake Region Traders Association expressed concern about crowding in schools, which they claimed poses a risk to the children, who could easily turn out to be 'super-spreaders'.

"While the Ministry of Health has imposed more restrictions to curb the spike in Covid-19 cases, my ministry is well prepared and will deal with situations as they arise," Prof Magoha said in Kisumu.

"If there is a crisis in a particular school, it will be dealt with in isolation just like we have done in the past," he said on Wednesday while inspecting the process of Elimu Scholarship Awards in Manyatta slums.

But Mr Jayesh Patel, the chairman of the Lake Region Traders Association, suggested that learning institutions should be closed for at least two weeks in a bid to prevent further spread of the virus.

"It doesn't make sense when we have a ban on public gatherings limited to 50 people, while our children attend schools where their numbers go up to hundreds or even thousands," he stated.

He was speaking in Kisumu when together with members of the civil society, the traders donated 50,000 masks, sanitisers and soap to the county and national governments.

On their part, the teachers, through the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) also opposed the idea of closing down schools saying it will unnecessarily cause disharmony in the academic calendar with the rest of the country.

Regular fumigation exercise

Kuppet Kisumu branch secretary Zablon Awange said that both the national and county government should instead enhance Covid-19 vaccination in schools among teachers.

Mr Awange said there's need for regular fumigation exercise in the schools in the region.

"We are worried at the rate we are losing teachers to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government needs to administer the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on our teachers and increase oxygen supply in the local hospitals," said Mr Awange.

He said that teachers are forced to seek medical attention as far as Eldoret to get bed space.

"Despite massive enrollment of students, most schools lack water and soap. These are the things the government needs to look into," charged Mr Awange.

Meanwhile, Prof Khama Rogo, the chairman of the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) Eminent Persons Advisory Committee, said his team has proposed stringent lockdowns but also agreed that they should be done in a moving order.

"Schools will be closed if you continue behaving the way you do. The closure of the institutions is not about the governor or the president, it is about the way we behave," he warned.

He urged alumni of various schools to participate in the LREB's 'adopt-a school' initiative where they are appealing to people to give back to the schools by buying masks or any other PPEs.

Behave safe

"It is our belief that we can keep the schools safe if we behave safe and contribute towards that," said the health expert.

Prof Nyong'o had also on Tuesday also dismissed the idea of closing schools saying they are not super-spreaders of the Covid-19 compared to other gatherings such as funerals.

He pointed an accusing finger at adults saying they were bad examples to their children who see them every day not wearing masks and also going to gatherings in total contravention of the Ministry of Health (MoH) protocols.

"I do not think that schools are as dangerous as funerals because you people congregate in thousands in burial ceremonies in total disobedience of the MoH directives where you eat without masks and then go home and die," said Prof Nyong'o.

"If we behave responsibly, each one of us will find that in schools they are responsible. But if you allow your children to see you go to bars and stand recklessly, what do you expect them to do in schools," said the Kisumu governor.

With the tight education calendar that begins on August 2 and ends on March 4, 2022, Prof Magoha pointed out that the ministry cannot afford to close schools but has put necessary measures to curb the spread of infections in this period now considered the third wave.

"We have ensured that all schools have money to guarantee that the Covid-19 protocols are observed for the safety of learners and teachers in various institutions," said the CS.

The 13 Lake region counties under partial lockdown are Kisumu, Bomet Bungoma, Busia, Homa-Bay, Kakamega, Kericho, Kisii, Migori, Nyamira, Siaya, Trans-Nzoia, and Vihiga counties.

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