S. African president announces closure of public schools as COVID-19 cases surge

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CAPE TOWN, July 23 (Xinhua) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that all public schools will be closed for four weeks starting from Monday as confirmed COVID-19 cases surged.

There are, however, some exceptions. Grade 12 students and teachers will only take a one-week break and return to school on Aug. 3, the president said in a televised address to the nation, adding that Grade 7 learners will take a two-week break and return to school on Aug. 10.

Throughout this period, the National School Nutrition Program will continue to operate so that students and their parents can collect food directly from schools, said Ramaphosa.

As a result of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the current academic year will be extended beyond the end of 2020, according to Ramaphosa.

“We have taken a deliberately cautious approach to keep schools closed during a period when the country is expected to experience its greatest increase in infections,” he said.

As of Thursday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country passed the 400,000 mark to reach 408,052 and the related death toll stood at more than 6,000, according to Ramaphosa.

South Africa now has the fifth highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world and accounts for half of all the cases in Africa, the president said.

Ramaphosa stressed the importance to ensure that schools do not become sites of transmission at a time when infections are rising fast.

South Africa has adopted a phased return to schooling, with students in Grades 7 and 12 returning to school starting from June, and those in Grades R, 6 and 11 back to school on July 6.

“Now, with the number of infections rising in several parts of the country, there have been calls for schools to be closed again,” Ramaphosa said.

Concerning the school re-opening, the president said that it was difficult to reach consensus on the best approach, as international and local experts have different views.

“What everyone does agree on, however, is that the health, academic and social development of learners must remain our foremost concerns,” Ramaphosa said.

This is consistent with the advice of the World Health Organization, which argues for a balanced consideration of the educational needs of students and trends in the development of the disease, said Ramaphosa. Enditem

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