The Senegalese government has decided, on the eleventh hour, against reopening its high schools after a cluster of coronavirus infections was detected among teachers in the south of the country.
After some two-and-a-half months of school closures, students in the last three years of high school – 550,000 out of 3.5 million children in the education system – had been scheduled to return to their classrooms on Tuesday.
But late at night, the education ministry announced the move was being delayed “until a later date”.
It said a number of coronavirus cases had been detected among teachers in Casamance, a region in Senegal’s far south.
An education ministry official told the radio station RFM that 10 teachers had been infected in the Ziguinchor region, the capital area of Casamance.
In light of this, President Macky Sall “decided to postpone the return to school to a later date in order to prevent any risk of spread”, the ministry said.
He called on the authorities to “continue with work that is already underway” for a resumption, the ministry said.
Before the scheduled return, many teachers, parents and students had expressed fears about the risk of infection. They said schools were underequipped and physical distancing and other coronavirus prevention measures were impossible to impose.
To date, the country has officially counted more than 3,700 coronavirus cases, including 43 deaths.
As with other African countries, the pandemic has been relatively contained, but the weak state of Senegal’s healthcare system has raised doubts about its ability to withstand a severe outbreak.
Senegal swiftly introduced preventive measures against the coronavirus after the first case surfaced on March 2.
The government imposed many restrictions but no lockdown under a state of emergency that has just been extended until the end of June.
A decision is expected in the coming days on whether some measures should be lifted, including a nighttime curfew and a ban on travel between regions.