CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 18: Grade 12 learners of Rosendaal Senior Secondary in Delft wear face masks donated by Metropolitan Life as they listen intently to their principal Ms Griselda Layman, as she teaches them on Day 83 of the national lockdown on June 18, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. South African schools reopened to Grade 7s and 12s on the 8th of June. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
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South Africa Delays Opening Of Schools Amid Rise In COVID-19 Cases

Public and private schools in South Africa will open for the new academic year on February 15, the Deputy Minister of the Department of Basic Education Regina Mhaule announced on Friday.

Schools had been expected to open on January 27 but President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday said the matter would be reevaluated in light of a surge in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the year.

Mhaule said the decision to postpone the opening of schools was a difficult one but one which all stakeholders were united in supporting.

“Given the pressure experienced by the health system in the past few weeks, occasioned by increased COVID-19 infections, which has led to the second wave, the Council of Education Ministers in conjunction with the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet, has taken the decision to delay the reopening of both public and private schools with two weeks,” Mhaule said.

Mhaule also appealed to private schools which had already opened to close and push forward their opening dates in line with the government’s directives.

“The new dates for the reopening of private schools will vary depending on the calendar that they follow,” Mhaule added.

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This is the second time the reopening of schools is being rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The initial opening for the academic year was January 13 but was then moved to January 27.

“The coronavirus has turned our lives upside down and decision-making for a sector as large as basic education has become a difficult exercise,” she said.

Mhaule also outlined a process which will allow for a phased return of staff and learners by mid-February.

School management teams (SMTs) will report on January 25 to prepare for the return of teachers on February 1, while teachers will also prepare for the return of students two weeks later. Schools are also expected to use that period to finalise outstanding issues such as admissions.

Education activists in the country have expressed concerns over the opening of schools amid the rising cases while a recent survey by the University of Johannesburg revealed a majority of parents (53 percent) wanted schools to remain closed until the situation improved.

South Africa, which is experiencing a second wave of the pandemic driven by a new COVID-19 variant, has reported more than 1.2 million confirmed cases and more than 35,000 deaths.

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