All schools must enforce Covid-19 safety protocols

As schools in different states prepare to reopen for academic work, beginning from this month, there is a need for the various authorities at all levels to take adequate precautionary measures aimed at curtailing further spread of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria. While the progressive decline in the number of COVID-19 cases at the moment is a welcome development, it must not be the basis to relax the enforcement of all safety protocols outlined by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in our schools. We expect both the government and school authorities to learn useful lessons from various countries which had experienced an upsurge in cases of COVID-19 infections after reopening their schools.

In Israel, for instance, where schools were reopened on May 17, following a noticeable decline in the number of infections, a total of 1,335 students and 691 staff contacted the virus just within two months of reopening schools, and more than 28,000 students and teachers had been quarantined. The volume of the spread resulted in the decision of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to close down no fewer than 125 schools in an aggressive drive to arrest the spread of the virus. Barely two weeks after the schools were reopened, Israel was forced to come up with a new policy, ordering the closure of any school which had recorded at least one case of COVID-19 infection while all students and staff of the school were quarantined. In the same vein, Ghana, a neighbouring West African country, which had reported minimal cases of COVID-19 with low fatalities, also witnessed a rise in infection after reopening schools in early July.

While we support resumption of schools so that our children can go back to learning, we expect the authorities to learn useful lessons from the cases of Israel and Ghana by ensuring that all COVID-19 protocols are not only deliberately put in place ahead of resumption, but are also strictly observed. This warning has become imperative in view of the fact that an outbreak of infections in schools will automatically spell doom for the country. A single infection could spread among students who share hostel rooms and classrooms together, as well as to the staff who could in turn spread the virus to their respective families and the larger community.

This possible scenario was what the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, alluded to in July, when he announced the reversal of the earlier announcement by the federal government to reopen schools for students participating in external examinations. But we do not buy the minister’s idea (expressed as a personal wish) of a possible one-year closure of Nigerian schools when majority have no infrastructure for e-learning. Besides, the experience of several schools whose students were on campus for the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) has also shown that the challenge could be managed. There has been no report of COVID-19 outbreak in any of the schools which is a welcome development. There are lessons to be learnt from that.

We therefore call on the relevant authorities, particularly ministries of education and their agencies in various states to dispatch their staff on inspection tour of every school willing to reopen to ensure that all COVID-19 protocols are put in place before the arrivals of the students. The ministries of health in the various states should also join in these efforts. Prevention, as conventional wisdom teaches, is always better than cure. In the case of COVID-19, there is yet a cure!