Govt ties schools reopening to jabs

Friday July 30 2021
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Pupils of Victorious Education Services in Bakuli, Old Kampala, attend a computer lesson before the first lockdown last year. Schools were closed on June 7 to stop further spread of Covid-19. PHOTO/RACHEL MABALA

By Damali Mukhaye

Schools will not reopen unless all teachers and university students take the Covid-19 jab and the disease’s positivity rate reduces to 5 per cent, a minister has said.

Positivity rate is the percentage of people confirmed positive for Covid-19 out of total tests conducted.

For Uganda, the positivity rate, which towered in double digits before the second lockdown that ended yesterday, now orbits at around 8.4 per cent.

In an interview yesterday, the State minister for Primary Education, Dr Moriku Kaducu, said: “At a moment, the positivity rate is at 8.4 per cent and if we risk and reopen schools now, the positivity rates will go up. We cannot do this now. The scientists will of course guide us in reopening schools and this will depend on the positivity rates.”

She was speaking on the sidelines of the launch of the European Union and other development partners’ Shs32.4b (Euros 7.7m) Innovative and Inclusive Education programmes

The pronouncement by Dr Moriku, the immediate past State Health minister who co-led the government’s assault on the first wave of the pandemic, throws open the answer to questions of anxious parents have been asking about reopening of educational institutions.

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When the country launched mass vaccination against Covid-19 on March 10, the government listed teachers, health workers and members of security forces as well as Ugandans 60 years or older as priority groups to receive the jab.

However, doubts about the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines birthed public apathy, resulting in only 110,000 of the targeted 550,000 --- roughly one in five ---teachers at both public and private schools taking the shots.

Far fewer have got the recommended double jabs, according to official statistics.

According to the Ministry of Education, there are 258,866 students at all private and government universities in the country.

They, however, were not considered among the priority groups for vaccination because officials presumed that majority of the students are youthful and possess stronger immunity to fight Covid-19, making them unlikely to develop severe illnesses from the virus.

Vaccination status

An unknown number are presumed to have taken the jab voluntarily when the government in May staged mass public vaccination at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala as Covid cases surged and the possibility of the vaccines expiring dawned.

Before long, the 964,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines – donated by Covax and the Indian government – were exhausted, stalling vaccination until France in June offered 175,200 vaccines again through Covax.

Some 286,080 doses donated by Norway through Covax – a global facility to facilitate poor countries’ access to vaccines – is expected in the country today.

In addition, the 300,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines promised by China many months ago are due to be delivered tomorrow, officials said.

With 440,000 teachers and 258,866 university students yet to take jabs, it means the two groups alone would roughly require 1.4 million doses of the double-shot Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, which Uganda currently does not have.

Overall, about 1.1 million people --- about 5 per cent of the targeted 21.9 million --- have been vaccinated, with one out of every five receiving the recommended double shots.

In an update on Tuesday about the Covid situation as the 42-day lockdown wound to a close yesterday, Health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng said they had made a $3 million down-payment through the Africa Union to procure 2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the United States.

Dr Aceng said they are concluding an order of 9 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, but securing the stock and its actual delivery to Uganda will depend on availability of the vaccines on the market --- a fluid promise that renders official proclamations of tying opening up the country to immunisation more like a gamble.

Nonetheless, Dr Kaducu said schools’ reopening will depend on vaccination of all teachers and university students, a drop of the positivity rate to 5 per cent and prospective students taking mandatory self-paid Covid tests prior to reporting to school.

“When we receive the doses of vaccines we are expecting, teachers and university students will be given priority. When we do this, no one should complain,” she said.

However, the Health ministry spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, said yesterday that they had not decided which people will be prioritised for vaccination this time round.

What teachers say

Mr Filbert Baguma, the secretary general of Uganda National Teachers’ Union (Unatu), said even when the government dedicates all the doses of the expected vaccines, it will not be enough for all teachers.

President Museveni imposed a second lockdown of 42 days on June 18, which ended yesterday, following a dramatic rise in Covid infections and deaths from late May. He closed schools, dispersing 15.1 million learners, many of who reportedly infected their parents – among them top government officials – and this happened, according to the President, because heads of some educational institutions concealed outbreak of the virus because they feared to lose money in the event of a fresh closure.

The government first imposed a lockdown and closed schools, among many other activities, in March 20, 2020 and last month’s second lockdown came just as lower primary classes were due to resume studies, having stayed home for more than a year.

Officials from the European Union and the Uganda Education Consortium, who were yesterday launching a programme to enable children in refugee camps to go to school, asked the government to ensure students return to schools as soon as possible.

Ms Lilian Nyacheng, a programme assistant with the Directorate General of Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operation, said a proposal they made to the government to implement a double shift model is being studied.

Appeal from donors

“We know that adopting these measures will only be feasible once the current wave decreases. We need first to flatten the curve, but it is essential that significant steps are now taken towards that direction starting with validation of double –shifting model guidelines,” she said.

The launch of the Shs32.4b (7.7m Euros) Innovative and Inclusive Education Programme, funded by EU and other partners, will support upgrade of school infrastructure in refugee camps and host communities and teacher recruitment.

Mr Wycliffe Nsheka, the country director for Finn Church Aid, said the “project will … use a condensed version of the Ugandan curriculum to speed up learning for children who have missed out on years of school”.

Beneficiaries of the new EU project will include Kyaka ll, Kyagwali, Nakivale, Imvepi and Rhino Camp refugee settlements.

Background

President Museveni imposed a second lockdown of 42 days on June 18, which ended yesterday, following a dramatic rise in Covid infections and deaths from late May. He closed schools, dispersing 15.1 million learners, many of who reportedly infected their parents – among them top government officials – and this happened, according to the President, because heads of some educational institutions concealed outbreak of the virus because they feared to lose money in the event of a fresh closure.

The government first imposed a lockdown and closed schools, among many other activities, in March 20, 2020 and last month’s second lockdown came just as lower primary classes were due to resume studies, having been home for more than a year.

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