SHOULD THEY BE CLOSED?

Congested Kenyan schools more exposed to coronavirus

Schools suffer the burden of poor hygiene and congestion occasioned by 100 per cent transition

In Summary

• Education stakeholders have faulted the silence around the preparations to ensure school-going children are safe from the spread of the coronavirus.

• Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and China have shut down schools as part of measures to contain the spread of the virus. 

Medical staff carry a box as they walk at the Jinyintan hospital in China where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated.
CONGESTION CATALYST: Medical staff carry a box as they walk at the Jinyintan hospital in China where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated.
Image: REUTERS

Congestion in Kenyan schools has raised queries and panic alike over the risk of exposure to learners in case coronavirus gets to the country. 

This is even as Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and China have shut down schools as part of measures to contain the spread of the virus.

It is perceived that schools in the country suffer the burden of congestion occasioned by 100 per cent transition, and poor hygiene that could catalyse the spread of the deadly virus. 

 
 

The World Health Organization suggests prevention as a method to reduce infections through precautions: wash hands frequently, cover sneezes and coughs and stay home if fever or other symptoms arise. 

It also advises people to reduce contact by at least a metre between individuals that might show possible signs of the virus.

On Saturday, Kenya National Union of Teachers and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers called on the Education Ministry to ensure schools are also prepared for the worst should the virus spread into the country.

Kenya Parent Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo said schools face a unique challenge of congestion that could spell doom should the virus enter the country.

"These learners mingle in classes, in dormitories and in the field for co-curricular activities, being a communicable disease, the current set up in schools put children to high venerability and risk," Maiyo said. 

On Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta – through an executive order – put together a team to assess the preparedness of the country to contain the virus whose genesis is the Wuhan Province in China.

However, the team led by the Health Cabinet Secretary fails to incorporate any member of the education ministry and this is now causing jitters among members of the fraternity.

 
 

Maiyo faulted the government to consider ensuring safety in schools. 

He has said the association will petition the government to consider including school fraternities in averting the coronavirus crisis.

"We have a team that has been appointed to deal with the coronavirus spread, but none of those seated in the team represents the school fraternity and this is worrying. Schools spaces should be provided with utmost care to prevent the menace," Maiyo said.

US-based news website Time, on Friday, reported that in Miami, public school leaders were preparing for 200,000 laptops and tablets for students in case buildings close and force classes online. 

New York Times, on Thursday, also reported the Japanese government will want all elementary, junior high and high schools to close from March 2 to near the end of March.

Japan's office of the Prime Minister tweeted, "At the 15th Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters meeting, PM Abe stated that the government would put health and safety of children first and request all elementary, junior- and senior high schools and special needs education schools to close from March 2 to the spring break."

In the U.S., Bothell High School in Washington State shut its doors after a staffer’s family member was suspected of being infected with coronavirus. 

A UK-based news website also reported three UK schools have been closed down after some of their students returned from ski trips.

Worldwide, there are 83,704 confirmed and suspected cases that have killed 2,859 people, according to the respected global medical researcher Johns Hopkins hospital.

Indimuli Kahi, the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association chairman, on Saturday, told the Star they will meet the ministry next week to deliberate on the safety of learners as the country assess its preparedness.

"It is important that schools, universities and tertiary institutions look at their pandemic preparedness plans, dust them off, and make sure that they’re ready,” Kahi said. 

Edited by R.Wamochie