A covid-19 cluster outbreak in a school in Mount Frere causes panic in the Eastern Cape and teachers union calls for schools to be shut down in the province.
Parents, staff and learners were crying on Tuesday in Eastern Cape’s Makaula Senior Secondary School after receiving their covid-19 test results.
In this school in Mount Frere’s Lugangeni village, 204 learners and hostel employees tested positive for covid-19. More learners are still waiting for their results and there are over 60 teachers who still need to be tested.
Community leaders are demanding that the Eastern Cape Health Department test the whole village, after a number of the learners escaped the school before receiving their results. The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) is calling for schools in the province to be closed.
Parents and community leaders who spoke to Elitsha said that overcrowded classrooms and hostels may well be the reason why so many learners are infected. Learners in this boarding school share a hall with beds close to one another. Boys are in one hall and girls in another.
Parents also accuse the school principal of withholding news of the outbreak when learners started to get sick.
In an interview with Elitsha, Chief Nokhwezi Makuala who was part of a meeting on Tuesday when parents were called to receive the covid-19 results of their children, said that the whole community is shocked and in fear. “This is a very frustrating time to us as community leaders and as parents. Villagers are living in fear, same as parents of infected children,” said chief Makuala.
Chief Makuala said two weeks ago, just a few days after the school had re-opened, she saw a Facebook post about Makaula learners who are sick.
She contacted the school principal who assured her that all learners were healthy. “Since the principal assured me that everything was fine, I stopped worrying,” said the Chief.
She said last week she received a call from a concerned parent telling her about school children being sick at Makaula. “I was shocked because the principal assured me that learners were fine,” she said.
On her way home last week Wednesday, she saw two ambulances leaving the school; another ambulance was still on the school premises.
“I went to the security guards to inquire what was happening; they told me that learners are complaining of a fever. He was not around but security guards told me that the principal was aware of what was happening,” she said.
Chief Makaula said she turned to the department for answers because the principal was not taking her calls.
“Last Thursday we were here with Education, Health and Social Development trying to find answers and parents who live around here also came; it was when we heard about the first group of learners who tested positive and some learners waiting for their results. On Saturday boys were just fed-up, demanding to go home. We tried to stop them but they left, this means the whole village is now affected,” said chief Makaula.
A parent of a Grade 12 learner who asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter said that on the first week when schools re-opened, her daughter sent her a call-back. “I called her, she told me that there are learners who are sick but the school is not doing anything about that. I called the school; unfortunately I could not get through to the school principal,” she said.
“Again on Monday this week she called me demanding us to come fetch her from the school because learners were now getting very sick. I called the school but I was told not to panic because learners were okay and if anything happened I will be called. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do because we live outside Mount Frere,” said the mother.
“My daughter is now of the learners who tested positive and I blame the school. I didn’t want her to return to school but the school assured us that everything was fine,” said cried, holding back tears.
“A number of parents here said they called the principal and he assured them that learners were okay. If the principal spoke early of what was happening in the school, maybe the number was not going to be this high.”
School principal, Luzuko Mbana, said he is not allowed to speak with the media and asked all questions to be referred to School Governing Body chairperson, Mrs Mankuhlwana. She also refused to speak to us.
Eastern Cape Health Department spokesperson, Sizwe Kupelo, said the department has deployed a team of doctors and tracers to the school to screen and test those who came into contact with the 204 people to stop the spread of the virus.
Kupelo said the department is also looking into possibly converting the hostel into an isolation facility to curb the spread of the virus.
“A team of clinicians have been sent to the school to ascertain if the hostel meets the department’s minimum standards for quarantine and isolation facilities, which include, but are not limited to lighting, well ventilated rooms and sanitation services,” said Kupelo in a statement
He said those that have tested positive are in isolation within the Alfred Nzo District Municipal area.