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Government closes schools for two weeks over Coronavirus

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Guyana Chronicle, March 14, 2020

FOLLOWING backlash from an initial statement that public schools would remain open despite the discovery of Guyana’s first reported case of the Covid-19 virus, the Ministry of Education (MoE), on Friday, issued a new statement informing that public schools will be closed for two weeks, commencing from Monday, March 16.

That, however, was not enough for some parents who are still calling for specifics on what exactly the MoE plan of action is, particularly as it pertains to students slated to write the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), which is scheduled for April 8 – 9.

In the statement, the ministry noted that, “the decision [to close schools] will be reassessed during this period and further guidance will be provided”. Notwithstanding the other concerns, Public Relations Officer (PRO), Brushell Blackman, said the statement issued was all the ministry would say on the matter at this point in time.

He directed further queries to the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Alfred King. Efforts made to contact King by telephone proved futile. Some hailed the move by the MoE to close the schools for the two weeks, as the country waits to see how developments on the spread of the virus unfold.

“Great move MoE, prevention is better than cure,” Sara Persaud commended under the ministry’s post of the statement on their Facebook page. Also commending the move was Althea Scipio who said: “Thank you for this. The ministry has our children’s health and safety at heart.”

However while most of those sharing their views applauded the move, there were those who did not agree. “I don’t think at this point in time that it’s necessary. Keeping children home only proves to slow the virus from its spread. The Coronavirus (Covid-19) has an incubation period of between 14-21 days. How long do we plan to shut the school’s down? For the two weeks the schools are shut down, undoubtedly there will be more cases of the virus arising,” reasoned father, Seon Tugwell, from Essequibo, who has two children including a four year old in nursery school.

A mother of two from the West Coast Demerara, with children in grades nine and six respectively, just wants to know what is the MoE’s plan for the grade six students and the NGSA. “They should have thought it through and give parents some sort of clarity, because now we just sitting here uncertain. These teachers and students worked overtime to prepare for this exams and now it will be a setback,” she said.

She suggested that: “They should have at least closed school for the other classes and let grade six go out to school, while practicing the proper hygiene process.” In an initial statement on Thursday, the MoE had put forth a checklist for teachers and staff to plan and prepare as a cautionary measure against preventing the spread of the virus, which has been sweeping across the globe in a World Health Organisation (WHO)-classified pandemic.

Measures included calling on teachers and staff to “ensure soap and safe water is available at age-appropriate hand washing stations”, “place hand sanitisers in toilets, classrooms, halls, and near exits where possible”, “clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces and objects in the classroom” and to “use sodium hypochlorite at 0.5 per cent (equivalent 5000ppm) for disinfecting surfaces and 70 per cent ethyl alcohol for disinfection of small items, and ensure appropriate equipment for cleaning staff,” among other actions. Parents however, were quick to take the ministry to task and questioned the lack of information on what resources the ministry would be providing towards the advised measures.

“This advisory is well written and clear [but] I have many questions. Will the MoE be providing these supplies for the schools and will there be collaboration with health workers where they will be dispatched to schools to help facilitate this strategy? Or will teachers now have to do this along with regular work?” mother of two, Flemlym Ragobeer, had questioned.

A commenter, who claimed to be a primary school teacher, noted that teachers may face difficulties in getting some of the smaller students to comply with some of the directives. “I’m a primary school teacher, how are we getting these children to follow all of these health tips especially the smaller ones. These children would never follow these tips. We deal with a large amount of children every day from near and far, we don’t know who these children associate with away from school,” she reasoned.
Several persons called for the ministry to close the schools.