Thousands of teachers succumb to Covid-19

By Asanda Sokanyile Time of article published Jan 9, 2021

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Cape Town - About 2 000 educators have succumbed to Covid-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

With schools set to re-open in just three weeks, parents are not certain what to make of the rapid spread of the new strand and whether it will be safe to to send their children back to school on January 27.

Melinda Swaartz, a mother to a Grade 6 girl at a Mitchell’s Plain school, said she feared sending her daughter back to school. She said although no one in her family had succumbed to the virus, she knew people who had lost relatives during the first wave.

“It is heartbreaking to watch someone you know go through the pain of burying a loved one. This virus has made things worse in that people are not able to comfort friends due to restrictions and how the virus spreads. People need to be careful and stay home, keep each other safe. The number of people reported to be infected every day is scary, the number of people dying is horrifying. I am fearful of the day I lay a loved one to rest because of this virus and that is why I am not sure about sending my angel to school unless the department can assure us of our children’s safety.”

Prudence Nkosi, a mother of four, has two children in school, in Grade 1 and Grade 10.

“I don’t know what to make of all of this. Yes, teachers are dying and this second wave is taking people faster than HIV did when it first arrived. We made it through the 2020 school year, I am sure we will make it through this year as well,” she said.

Meanwhile, another parent, Michael Tshabalala, said if the option to keep children home was made available again, he would take it.

“I have one daughter, she has one life. I refuse to risk my baby girl’s life when every day we hear of someone dying. What is happening to teachers is very tragic. This virus is like a nuclear bomb of some sorts. No one is safe, but I will do all I can to protect my baby,” he said.

Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Millicent Merton said the department was ready to open doors to learning, despite the growing number of teachers succumbing to the virus.

“The Western Cape Education Department is as prepared as can be for the 2021 academic year and will implement the necessary protocols and guidelines. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) will inform us if there are any changes to the latest directions published under the National State of Disaster,” she said.

National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) spokesperson Basil Manuel said although numbers were spiking, it was not clear how many educators had succumbed to the virus due to the closure of district offices.

“At this stage, approximately 1 800 teachers have passed on in the Covid period. The number has spiked since the holidays, so we can safely say it is close to 2000,” he said.

Both Naptosa and the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) believe schools are safer than home. They said staggered attendance should remain intact although this meant less work per child at a given time.

Sadtu spokesperson Jonavon Rustin said it was too early to determine whether schools would be able to open on the set date or not.

“We will have to wait for the president to address the country next week and then depending on what he says, we will have to engage the DBE about away forward he said.

Western Cape Teachers Forum, a Facebook page dedicated to the province’s teachers, told a harrowing tale of the rapid rate at which educators were contracting the virus.

Some of the deaths announced on the page this week included Graham Adams, Tuscany Glen deputy principal, Donia van Schalkwyk, a special needs school teacher and Nomhamha Sobetwa-Magodla, a senior education specialist.

Weekend Argus

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