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Basic schools in Ghana to reopen on January 15

BY: Kwame Asare-Boadu & Rosalind K. Amoh

Basic schools are set to reopen on January 15, this year, after 10 months’ closure as a  result of the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“From 15th January, our children in kindergarten, primary and junior high in both private and public schools will be back in school,” President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said yesterday in his 21st address to the nation on measures taken against the spread of the COVID-19.

On Mach 15, 2020, the President announced the closure of all schools and universities, among a string of measures to stem the spread of the pandemic.

The decision was taken after the health authorities had reported a rise in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 from two to six, with the disclosure that all the new cases were arrivals from abroad.

Senior High Schools

In his address yesterday, the President said  all SHS 1 students would start classes from March 10 and do a single-track academic calendar.

For SHS 2 and 3 students, he said, they would return to school from January 18, and added that SHS 3 students in all schools would also no longer run the double-track system.

He added that for now, the double-track system would be applicable to only SHS 2 students in schools that were employing it.

On the gradual elimination of the double-track system, he explained: “The expansion of infrastructure at the various SHSs over the last three years has brought us to this favourable situation.”

On the universities and other tertiary institutions, the President said they would to be reopening from January 9, 2021.

Preparations

President Akufo-Addo also announced elaborate preparations for the resumption of academic work, with focus on the safety of students and staff of the schools.

“Prior to their return to school, the government, through the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service, will ensure that all institutions, public and private, are fumigated and disinfected.

“Schools and institutions with their own hospitals and clinics will be equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and have isolation centres to deal with any positive cases,” he explained.

Furthermore, he said all other schools and institutions without their own clinics and hospitals had been mapped to health facilities.

 “There will be, for now, no mass gatherings and no sporting activities. However, religious activities for students at school, under the new protocols, will be permitted,” he said.

Besides, he said, social distancing and the wearing of face masks must become the norm in all schools.

“The requisite provisions have been made to ensure that students at all levels of the educational ladder receive the minimum number of contact hours on their return to school,” he added.

President Akufo-Addo said the government, through the Ministry of Education, would provide face masks, Veronica buckets, hand sanitiser, liquid soap, rolls of tissue paper and thermometer guns for the safe reopening of the schools.

“The Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Education, the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Education Service will, from Monday, 4th January, commence a series of sensitisation campaigns to help prepare, inform and educate guardians, students and the public on further modalities associated with the reopening,” he said.

While assuring parents and guardians that the government was determined to protect the lives of all students, teachers and non-teaching staff who would be returning to school, the President urged all to adhere strictly to the protocols to protect themselves and others.

Relief package

Although the decision to provide relief for Ghanaians, which included the absorption of electricity and water bills, ended in December last year, the President said in view of the continuing difficulties occasioned by the pandemic, the government intended to continue to support the most vulnerable in society.

“The government will, thus, continue to pay electricity bills for our nation’s one million active lifeline customers for the next three months; that is, January, February and March.

“Additionally, all one million, five hundred thousand customers of the Ghana Water Company, whose consumption is not more than five cubic metres a month, will not pay any bills for the next three months; that is, for the months of January, February and March.

“This relief will be reviewed at the end of March,” he said.

International travels

He walked the public through the period that the very first cases of the COVID-19 entered the country to the measures taken to limit the importation of cases, which resulted in the introduction of one of the strictest testing regimes in the world — a two-tier testing system.

“As of 1st January, 2021, a total of 712 positive cases, out of 118,278 tests conducted, had been recorded among international arrivals at the Kotoka International Airport. Indeed, the month of December alone recorded 387 cases. The positivity rate among international arrivals rose from 0.26 per cent in September to 0.93 per cent in December.

“These developments call for the strengthening of the existing protocols to prevent the spread of the disease in Ghana, in light of the new variant of the virus,” he said

Consequently, he announced that some measures would be implemented, in addition to existing guidelines on international travel for COVID-19, in Ghana.

“First, all arriving passengers who test positive for COVID-19, asymptomatic or not, will undergo mandatory isolation and treatment at a designated health facility or isolation centre. The isolation will be for a period of seven days at the cost of the government. However, the final discharge of cases will be based on existing case management guidelines and protocols,” he said.

Secondly, he said, all passengers in isolation would undergo a repeat COVID-19 test within 24 hours of arrival, with the cost also borne by the government.

“This test will also include genomic sequencing for COVID-19,” he added.

In addition, he said, passengers who tested negative for COVID-19 would be required to adhere continuously to COVID-19 safety protocols and receive regular information on COVID-19 within five days of arrival in the country.

“I want to assure all Ghanaians that the testing regime in place at the KIA is among the strictest in the world, and, as certified by the Food and Drugs Authority, it is capable of detecting this new variant of COVID-19 which is plaguing other nations around the world,” he said.

Touching on the closure of beaches, pubs, cinemas and nightclubs, the President said the task force that advised him on COVID-19 measures was constantly reviewing the situation and would propose to him when it was safe to lift the restriction.

Case count

Giving an update on the current COVID-19 case count in Ghana, President Akufo-Addo said as of January 1, from the 674,812 tests conducted, 55,220 positive cases had been detected.

Of the number of positive cases, 53,005 had recovered, with active cases at 897, out of which 18 were severely ill but not in critical condition.

He added that 336 people had succumbed to the disease.

The President described the update as a relatively welcome picture, compared to data from other countries, and especially so at a time when many parts of the world were grappling with a second wave of infections and a new variant of the virus, which is said to be more transmissible than the original version.