Slowly but surely, we are attempting to go back to more sociable ways of living as we see the lifting of many lockdown restrictions. Some schools have started re-opening across the country, as of Monday 8 June. Many teachers, parents, and students remain concerned, even fearful. They aren’t sure if it is safe yet but also don’t want learners to miss any more of the academic year. The government has reassured us that the majority of schools are ready to operate with COVID-19 health and safety precautions in place.
As we start to (hopefully) re-engage with contact-based school and work activities, while there is still the risk of the spread of COVID-19, we must be cautious to ensure our own safety and the safety of others. This means practicing safe habits, staying informed and ensuring your behaviour and practices do not cause harm or negatively impact other people.
Remember to consistently follow these 3 safety practices:
- maintain a safe distance from other people,
- wear a mouth and nose mask at all times while at school or any place outside of your house,
- keep your hands clean by washing regularly with soap and applying an alcohol-based sanitiser between washes.
South Africa is following the World Health Organization’s safety protocols for managing the spread of COVID-19. These include various forms of social distancing and as such classrooms have been set up to allow space for students to sit 2 meters apart. Additionally, students must continue to maintain a safe distance from each other during break times. Schools have been supplied with masks as well as disinfectants and sanitizers to ensure that learners and staff can regularly disinfect their hands and the working surfaces. Upon arrival at schools in the mornings, learners are being sprayed down with disinfectant to limit the chance of the virus being transferred and are thermally scanned to check their temperatures. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan all acted early and have yielded positive results with all 3 places having amongst the lowest infection rates globally. When the new coronavirus first emerged they immediately implemented safety precautions such as promoting hand sanitization, the wearing of masks and checking people’s temperatures – as well as doing COVID-19 tests on a large scale. We can learn from them and strictly adhere to the 3 safety practices that have been identified as most impactful. Doing them can become really tedious, but it cannot be stressed enough how important being consistent is to stay safe.
One of the central messages that have been re-iterated about containing the spread of the virus, is about not only protecting yourself but also other people. In the absence of a confirmed vaccine, we are all vulnerable to contracting the virus and all responsible for containing the spread of it. Wearing a mask protects others and sanitizing your hands protects you. It is difficult to find a balance between paranoia and strict caution. What has been confirmed across the globe is that COVID-19 is very easily transmitted between people, and thus is an extremely contagious virus. The objective in South Africa is to contain the spread of the virus. As we have a population with high rates of co-morbidity diseases (such as diabetes, tuberculosis, asthma) a significant number of people may be susceptible to serious cases of coronavirus infections compared to other countries. Therefore, containing transmission is important. There have been reports of people making fun, pulling pranks, and acting in high-risk ways about the spread of COVID-19. As we are in a high-stress period, now more than ever it is important to show empathy and kindness. While it is to be expected that on the whole we will laugh and try to make light of the situation in order to release tension, it is not productive to bully or intimidate your peers and fellow students with COVID-19 related jokes. Rather invest your energy in becoming well-informed about the situation and contributing to the extra work required to keep your school (and home) a safe and sanitized environment.
You know that saying “knowledge is power”? It really can and does empower you to know what’s happening around you and how to adapt. One way that South African leaders (not just the government but health professionals, education specialist and heads of businesses too) are equipping themselves to make decisions about how to keep people safe, is by looking at what has worked in other parts of the world. As discussed in this post, we can learn from what Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan did to contain the spread of COVID-19. When you have time, go and read and watch clips about what other schools are doing to keep their environment safe. Take time to learn more about this particular coronavirus and the other types that affect humans. COVID-19 has impacted human history, our current local and global politics and affected the planet as a whole due to the unforeseen environmental impacts of reduced human activity. It will be something we’ll talk about for decades to come. It’s an important moment in history that you can hopefully comment on in the near and distant future, from the perspective of a well-informed individual.
We wish you good health, safety and academic success as you continue your education journey!