Basic education minister Angie Motshekga has asked all teachers to get vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to stabilise schooling.
“Truth be told, the sector is very unstable, especially because of the differentiated timetable,” Motshekga said on Saturday.
Between Wednesday and July 8, her department aims to vaccinate 582,000 teachers, other school staff, governors and administrators in the public and private sectors.
Despite calls for schools to be shut following an increase in the number of infections countrywide, a decision to keep them open was made on Saturday at a meeting of the Council of Education Ministers.
“We believe that schools must remain open, and in saying so we are not insensitive to the concerns raised about the rising infections,” Motshekga told a media briefing in Pretoria.
“I know that parents are concerned about the rising number of infections but it was agreed between the department, unions, school governing bodies and independent schools that … what we need to do is manage the problem on a school-by-school and province-by-province basis.”
The department’s acting director-general, Granville Whittle, said 300,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were already in the country and allocated to teachers, and more would arrive next week.
“There will be no age limitations as to who can get vaccinated,” he said. “Every adult working in a school will be vaccinated.
The state will cover all costs of the vaccinations. “Vaccination is voluntary, but if you are currently working remotely because of comorbidities and refuse to vaccinate you will have to return to school,” said Whittle.
Turning to vaccine hesitancy, he said a survey by the five teacher unions in January showed 52% of teachers wanted to be vaccinated, but this rose to 76% in June.
“It is still concerning, and that is why we have agreed with the teacher unions on a communication strategy where we can all reach out to teachers to emphasise that vaccines are safe, effective and probably the game-changers in terms of getting us beyond Covid,” he said.
After the vaccination period, all teachers were expected to return to work, said Motshekga.
“Whether you have comorbidities or not, we expect you to come back to work because you would have been given the opportunity to be protected in one way or another. Where you cannot vaccinate or don’t want to be vaccinated while you have comorbidities is a matter we will have to take up with the unions.”
Motshekga said it was still the intention for primary schools to return to a full timetable from the first day of the third term on July 28.
Responding to a question about what she made of the EFF’s threat to march on schools this week, calling for their closure, she said: “We are guided by the ministerial advisory committee and other sectors.
“Any disruption is a matter for the police, so I am not worried about that. I take my cue based on facts and nothing else.”
By Amanda Khoza