Opinion: Of the surge in COVID-19 cases in Ghana and re-opening of schools

On January 3, in his 21st broadcast to the nation on measures taken by the government against COVID-19, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced that all kindergartens, primary and junior high schools will reopen after a 9-month closure.

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Nana Addo said: "The lessons drawn from reopening of some sections of our educational institutions in the course of last year have put us in a much better position to oversee successfully the full reopening of our schools. Our children must go to school, albeit safely and we are satisfied that in the current circumstances, the reopening of our schools is safe."

Schools across the country were finally re-opened from January 9 for tertiary students and January 15 for senior and junior high school students as well as pupils in the lower classes.

But the recent surge in COVID-19 cases across the country have called the prudence of this decision by the government into question.

Ghana is currently averaging 600 cases of coronavirus cases a day. A development that has put a huge strain on the scanty medical facilities in the country.

According to the Ghana Health Service (GHS), the spike in numbers can be attributed to a new strain of the virus.

With total deaths now at 377 and an active case load of 3,813; it begs the question why students are still in school.

Government officials have maintained that all schools will be provided with Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to guard against the virus.

Furthermore, they argue that strict compliance of the safety protocols will minimize any potential of an outbreak in schools.

Also, some health experts have disclosed that the rate of infection among the younger generation is minimal therefore students can return back to the classrooms without any serious concerns.

But a recent admission by Prof. Sampson Antwi, Head of the Child Health Directorate at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital on the trajectory of infections in the Ashanti Region makes moot of the aforementioned argument.

According to him, the infection among kids in the region is growing exponentially.

“We are having a huge surge in COVID positive cases and the disease initially, children were said to be spared. We had 14 the whole of last year but this year, just the spate of 10-days, we got 9 positive cases,” he told Accra based Joy News.

“The COVID strain that we are having now is really also affecting children seriously. If in less than 2-weeks we are getting 9 cases, we don’t know where we are going to go when we are already full,” says Prof Antwi.

Education think tank, Africa Education Watch has also argued against government's justification for re-opening of schools.

According its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Kofi Asare, the decision to allow students back into the classrooms was a hasty one.

Mr. Asare bemoaned the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for most of the schools that have re-opened.

“We have indicated that PPEs have delayed and the GES is now saying that they will arrive at the end of the week. And so obviously, we are not ready to open schools – we rushed it,” he said.

“The PPEs are not there. We have not learned lessons from the reopening of schools last year at all and that is very disappointing. Our readiness is quite questionable because we visited schools that still have class sizes of 70 and 80,” he lamented.

Despite the current lack of cases among students in schools in the recent surge, there is a growing concern about a future outbreak.

President Akufo-Addo in his last update on measures taken by government to manage the virus warned of a possible lockdown again if the adherence to the safety protocols doesn't improve.

Such a harsh caveat had led to critics questioning why schools are not sent back on recess at least for kids in lower primary classes till the country steers clear from the second wave of the novel coronavirus.

Whether the government will heed to these calls or maintain its position of making sure the kids in school are safe will be a conversation that will go on for a while.

However, time will tell on who is advocating for the right thing.

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