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SA inches closer to a new normal with full attendance at schools to commence next week

Tuscany Glen High School learners going home after school. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

Tuscany Glen High School learners going home after school. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Feb 2, 2022

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Cape Town - The country is edging a little closer to normality reminiscent of pre-pandemic days.

This after Cabinet’s approval of changes to adjusted alert level 1, following meetings with the National Coronavirus Command Council and the President’s Co-ordinating Council. The approval came as data from the Health Department showed the country had exited the fourth wave.

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Primary, secondary and special needs schools will return to normal daily attendance with the 1-metre physical distancing regulation scrapped.

The adjustments received a resounding welcome from various quarters.

Premier Alan Winde welcomed the return to full schooling for all grades.

“A continuation of a rotational timetable would have hurt our poorest communities the most, resulting in a generational catastrophe. We need our children in class for as long as possible, if we are to reverse the detrimental impact that the pandemic has had on their learning,” he said.

Winde continued his call for more clarity on when the national state of disaster would end.

“It will be completely unacceptable to renew the declaration on February 15, 2022, when it is set to expire because the national government is not yet ready.

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“The time has come for the president to make his plan to end the national state of disaster public so that we can see exactly where we are in the process,” Winde said.

Following a meeting with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Tuesday, Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said schools should be ready to receive all learners from Monday.

“The time lost in school has implications not only for academic progress, but also aggravates societal issues such as learner pregnancies and the risk of dropping out of school,” she said.

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“I also asked that the issue of mask wearing for children be reconsidered. I have received a number of requests from parents in that regard. There is conflicting evidence on this issue, and it was agreed that the matter will be processed through the Council of Education Ministers for recommendations and consideration.

“As always, we will rely on expert evidence when making decisions in this regard,” she said.

Provincial Health Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said, to date, 148 847 children aged between 12 and 17 have been vaccinated in the province.

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Cabinet also decided that people who test positive with no symptoms do not have to isolate; and should someone test positive with symptoms, the isolation period has been reduced from 10 to seven days. Close contacts do not have to isolate unless they develop symptoms.

“We welcome the adjustment to the isolation and quarantine period as announced and now await the official departmental directive from national once the regulations are formally revised and communicated, as there is still a revision process to be concluded,” said Van der Heever.

Western Cape chairperson of the Education and Allied Workers Union of SA, André de Bruyn, said the adjustments were not well thought out.

“Not all teachers have been vaccinated. Only a small percentage of learners have been vaccinated. What are we doing to combat the infection rate at schools with learners jammed like sardines and teachers vulnerable? Where are the PPEs (personal protection equipment) or should the workers look after themselves as per usual?” De Bruyn asked.

Stellenbosch University senior lecturer in the Department of Global Health, Dr Jo Barnes, raised a number of concerns.

“I am concerned that the isolation of cases is now solely managed on the presentation of symptoms. We know that a sizeable portion of those who get infected show no symptoms at all, but they are still able to pass on the infection.”

Barnes also noted concern over strong calls to scrap the wearing of masks.

“Should another variant appear, it is going to be even more problematic to get the population to go back to wearing masks. There is another sub-variant of Omicron in Denmark, called BA.2, spreading fast. We do not know whether this sub-variant is more dangerous than the original Omicron variant.

“Should that be, then all the changes to the rules may have to be reconsidered or repealed,” Barnes said.

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