#COVID-19: Zim Lecturers Fret Over Universities Reopening

LECTURERS across most of  Zimbabwe’s state universities have expressed concern over government’s decision to reopen universities at a time the country is battling the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

By Michael Gwarisa

Zimbabwe currently has 56 confirmed cases of COVID-19 amidst indications that the country has not been doing enough in terms of testing, and the reopening of schools and universities  could lead to a spike in new cases in the not so distant future. Government recently announced that schools would reopen mid-june while  universities are set to open on June 1, 2020.

Due to strict policies in Zimbabwe’s  state universities, where Public Relations officials are the only ones allowed to respond to media questions, all lectures in this article requested to be quoted  anonymously.   A university of Zimbabwe Lecturer  said reopening universities was ill-timed and deadly and could land Zimbabwe into an irreversible health crisis.

My view boarders around the issue of what the purpose of the lockdown was in the first place. The purpose of the lockdown was to flatten the curve, and give us a chance to actually reorganise our infrastructure and services and behaviors and all that.

“Have we achieved that? No. So why are going to open schools when we haven’t achieved the intended purpose in the fist place. We don’t have the basic infrastructure at campus today to test, quarantine and identify and isolate cases. We are now bringing back students from all walks of life who have been in contact with different kinds of people,” said the UZ lecturer.

He added that the move to reopen universities  was not informed by science or any epidemiological facts but a  mere political decision.

“How are they going to control for any disease. To me, this was a more political decision than a health decision. Its actually tricky, instead of flattening the curve, we are going to see an escalation in terms of infections.

“The unfortunate part is that we are not testing enough so we are not likely to identify cases until people start dying, thats the only time we can start saying we have the disease yet we already have it affecting people.”

To date, Zimbabwe has conducted 37 474, which is quite insignificant compared to how neighboring countries are faring. In April, government had set an ambitious target of testing at least 30 000 per month, a figure they have since revised.

Chinhoyi University Lecturer also said the move was not in the interest of preserving the health of students and universities employees.

“They are sending us to die now, this move could have waited until it was clear where we are going in terms of testing and treating patients. Right now we hear in some parts  of the country, some are leaving quarantine institutions without receiving their test results. Imagine what would happen if one student was to test positive on campus.”

Most lectures from other state universities around the country also concurred with their colleagues and saying government should revisit the decision and consider opening when our infection rates have declined.

According to the State media, Education Minister Cain Mathema said “schools will be opened three to four weeks from now”.

To prepare for reopening, the government is set to hire 6 000 teachers as part of a comprehensive plan for safe and smooth opening of schools in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. This will bring the number of teachers to 140 000. The country currently has about 4,5 million learners.

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