Mozambique: Higher education institutions reopen

The Mozambican government claimed on Tuesday that most institutions of higher education had reopened earlier that day, after they had shown the authorities that their water supply and sanitation systems are adequate to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 respiratory disease.

The entire education system, from creches through to universities, shut down in late March in order to block the spread of Covid-19. Where possible, education continued – but through distance learning methods. No face-to-face classes were permitted.

Now there is a gradual reopening, and Tuesday was the date on which higher education could resume in-person teaching.

Asked about the reopening, after the weekly meeting of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), the government spokesperson, Deputy Justice Minister Filimao Suaze, said he could confirm “that many institutions are able to resume, and indeed many did resume their activities today”.

He admitted that some could not reopen because their reports on preparations for reopening had been rejected by the health authorities.

Suaze did not put a number on how many institutions resumed in-person classes, but Wednesday’s issue of the Maputo daily “Noticias” said “at least 24” higher education institutions had reopened.

Eugenia Cossa, the Natonal Director of Higher Education in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, told the paper that 49 out of the 53 existing institutions are prepared for a gradual resumption of face-to-face teaching, although some of them “are concluding organisational aspects”.

She said a multi-sector team, headed by the Ministry of Health, has been visiting he universities to check on their preparations for reopening.

Only 24 of the 49 institutions that are supposedly ready actually gave classes on Tuesday. Cossa insisted that the other 25 “are adjusting some educational and health safety aspects, but they do meet all the conditions”.

Reporters found that many higher education institutions in Maputo remained shut on Tuesday, because they were making “final corrections”, such as disinfecting lecture rooms, installing taps where students and staff can wash their hands, and demarcating the appropriate distance (at least 1.5 metres) between desks in order to guarantee social distancing.

According to the independent television station STV, although the country’s oldest university, the Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM), in theory opened its doors on Tuesday, in practice it gave no classes, and most students did not go to the campus. Some staff said students did not need to attend anything because they were busy completing their end of course work.

New rules are now in force in the UEM. Students are banned from touching the handrails on the staircases, or even the walls, for fear that the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 can survive on these surfaces. Only two students at a time may enter any UEM bathroom.

Some classes were given at private universities. STV found that, at the Polytechnic University, in one classroom, designed to hold 16 students, only six were present. This university has about 2,000 students, but only 44 set foot on the premises on Tuesday. At the Technical University of Mozambique (UTM) STV found the classrooms almost empty.

Suaze, however, insisted that, in the near future “we shall have many other institutions reopening”. But any institution that did not meet the obligatory health and hygiene conditions would not be allowed to resume classes.

As for reopening churches and other places of worship, the Council of Religions of Mozambique (COREM) has estimated that only 60 per cent of the over 1,000 religious denominations registered in Mozambique meet the conditions for resuming collective acts of worship.

The COREM deputy chairperson, Jose Guerra, cited in “Noticias”, said that recently over 60 religious leaders met on-line with the Ministry of Health to discuss the conditions for resuming face-to-face services.

The meeting produced a checklist of measures that must be observed. Every religious body must have a contingency plan specifying the measures to be taken, if a suspected case of Covid-19 is discovered among the congregation. Masks must be worn by all participants in services, and the minimum social distancing of 1.5 metres must be observed between members of the congregation, and between them and the clergy.

A source of water must be available with taps to allow all participants to wash their hands. Alternatively, dispensers of alcohol-based hand sanitiser can be used. Infrared digital thermometers must be used to take the temperature of all participants at the entrance.

Places of worship may operate between 04.00 and 20.00, but there must be an interval of at least an hour between services.

No more than 50 people may attend any service, and the sharing of objects such as Bibles and other sacred books is forbidden. Singing in churches is also temporarily banned.

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