BLANTRYE, MALAWI - Malawi has announced plans for a phased reopening of schools beginning on September 7, as the rate of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has dropped. But health officials warn the lower infection rates are not because the pandemic is waning, but because of a decrease in testing rates due to a shortage of testing kits.
Malawi’s Education Minister Agnes Nyalonje told a press conference Thursday the reopening of schools aims to reduce the economic and social impact of coronavirus on the country.
“COVID-19 has put education in Malawi and the world over in disarray as we all know," Nyalonje said. "We have however realized that there is a need to continue educating and preparing our human resources, if the country is to develop.”
She said the classes — resuming on September 7 — are only for those sitting for final examinations and fourth year college students, while classes for younger students will begin in October.
Nyalonje said there are strict guidelines for reopening.
“Some of the issues contained in the guidelines include the following; number one, disinfecting schools following Centre for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, in close collaboration with district councils; number two, all schools are to ensure that hand washing facilities are available and that hand washing is enforced.”
The Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 also said it has recommended the opening of schools because Malawi has confirmed few coronavirus cases in recent weeks. From a peak of 100 cases per day last month, Malawi has for the past three weeks, confirmed as few as five cases per day.
George Jobe is the executive director for Malawi Health Equity Network.
He told VOA that the drop in confirmed cases is not a true reflection of the situation on the ground.
“The true picture on the ground considering that Malawi and as such not everyone is being tested," Jobe said. "We acknowledge that Malawi is not doing mass testing.”
Malawi’s government recently announced that it will only be testing those showing symptoms because of a shortage of COVID-19 test kits.
Betty Wisiki Kalitera, a specialist in special and inclusive education, has criticized government plans to give final examinations in three weeks.
She said this will disadvantage learners with disabilities who did not have access to lessons when schools closed.
“The content that was shared was not in Braille format to learners who are blind to give them a chance like any other learner to study whilst at home," Kalitera said. " So mostly they were just sitting idle without doing anything. For learners who are deaf is the same thing never had anything.”
Still, the Education Ministry says all teachers are required to start teaching from where they stopped when schools were closed on March 23.