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FG: Students, teachers must wear face masks in schools

…okays Jan 18 for resumption, rolls out protocols

Amidst fears of rising cases of coronavirus infections across the country, the Federal Government has approved next Monday, January 18, as the resumption date for all schools. It, however, insisted that wearing of face masks by all students, teachers and workers in all schools is compulsory.

The Federal Ministry of Education, which announced this yesterday, said the decision was arrived at after a comprehensive appraisal of the pandemic situation and extensive consultations with all stakeholders in the sector. According to a statement by the Ministry’s Director, Press and Public Relations, Ben Goong, relevant stakeholders, including governors, commissioners for education, proprietors and heads of institutions, staff unions and students were consulted and the consensus was that the resumption date of 18th January should remain.

The ministry further stated that part of the agreement was that parents and respective institutions must ensure full compliance with COVID-19 protocols including “compulsory wearing of face masks by all students, teachers, and workers in all schools; temperature checks and handwashing facilities at strategic locations in all schools; ensuring a constant supply of water and sanitizers and enforcement of maintenance of social distancing and suspension of large gatherings such as assembly and visiting days.”

Other protocols mandated for all schools include “avoiding overcrowding, including limitations in class sizes and hostel occupancy; availability of functional health clinics with facilities for isolation and transportation of suspected cases to medical facilities and adherence to all other nonpharmaceutical protocols, restrictions and containment measures as may be prescribed/approved by the PTF from time to time.”

The ministry noted that these measures, which are to ensure a safe reopening of schools for academic activities, would be subject to constant review as it urged teachers, school administrators and other stakeholders to ensure strict compliance.

Reacting to the announcement, National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said the union had never opposed government on reopening of universities, stressing that as lecturers, they were ready to go back to the classroom. But, according to him, what ASUU had been saying was that since the Federal Government rolled out the COVID-19 protocols in July 2020 on what schools and institutions should provide before they could resume, the assessment should be carried out if all these had been done or put in place.

“The Compliance Assessment/ Template and COVID-19 Risk Assessment put in place by the Federal Government should be properly situated,” Ogunyemi said, insisting that all these should be done to assure ASUU members and students of their safety before the institutions could be reopened. He said: “This is what we are saying. We are not opposed to the reopening of universities. We want the Federal Government to present the assessment reports.

“What ASUU is also saying is that our members should be assured of their safety. Government should address the issue of classroom congestion in line with social distancing guidelines. Have all these be done.

That is the question. “We don’t want to endanger the lives of our staff and students. In the last two weeks, we have lost many of our professors and we do not want the situation to be compounded.

That is our stand.” Also speaking with our correspondent, Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Lagos chapter, Adedoyin Adesina, said despite the announcement by the Federal Government, there must be considerations for the peculiarities of each state. According to him, there is also the need for a proper assessment of each school’s preparations for resumption in order not to endanger the lives of students and the teachers. On the readiness of teachers in Lagos for the resumption, Adesina said the union would be expecting further directives from Lagos State government to know the next steps to take. Meanwhile, a renowned virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, has told the Federal Government to expect an upsurge in COVID-19 cases in the country, if the space and environment of schools fails to meet the key safety standards.

Tomori, who is Chairman, Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee on COVID- 19, advised parents to ensure the schools were safe and in strict compliance to all COVID-19 protocols, before releasing their wards to resume school activities. He said: “Obviously we need to do more to get our children back to school.

The guidelines for public events and gathering must be adhered to first by ensuring that the space and environment of our schools meet the key standards for the safety of the children and drastically limits the opportunity for transmission of the COVID-19.

“Parents also need to be involved in ensuring that the schools are safe for their children and not a collection point for transmission of the disease. “If we do not make our schools safe for our children, we can expect the continuation of the upsurge as children get infected at school and return home to transmit the disease and infect their parents.” All efforts to get the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) proved abortive, as all calls and messages were not responded to as at press time.

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