JOHANNESBURG – Faced with a rapid resurgence of COVID-19 overwhelming the country’s hospitals and driven by a more infectious variant of the virus, South Africa has delayed reopening its schools.
The variant is having far-reaching consequences for Africa’s most developed nation as several countries trying to prevent its spread have stopped or reduced flights with South Africa.
South Africa has the highest prevalence of COVID-19 in Africa with a cumulative total of more than 1.3 million confirmed cases, including 36,851 deaths.
In the last 24 hours, the country has recorded 13,973 new infections and 348 deaths.
South Africa's 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 22 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 2 to 26 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 16, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“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,” said basic education deputy minister Reginah Mhaule.
The department has not released statistics of how many teachers or students have succumbed to COVID-19, but two teachers are confirmed to have died recently during the marking of last year’s examination.
“Some of our markers have passed away, while others withdrew from marking due to fear and anxiety, but also because some of their own family members have tested positive,” said Mhauli.
South Africa's education officials are on Monday expected to announce plans for universities and colleges, which closed last year as part of restrictions.
Several international airlines have stopped or reduced their flights to South Africa to curb the spread of the new variant.
The Dubai-based airline Emirates has suspended all scheduled flights to South Africa until Jan. 28 “due to operational reasons,” it said in a statement.
It joins a growing list of foreign airlines from countries including the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland, which have tightened restrictions for travel to and from South Africa since the emergence of the new variant.
South Africa itself has closed 20 land borders with the neighboring countries of Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique as part of its efforts to curb the spread of the virus during its second wave.
South Africa has also reintroduced a nighttime curfew, banned the sale of all alcoholic beverages and prohibited large gatherings.