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Rise in COVID-19 cases may delay resumption of face-to-face classes

Education Minister Emmalin Pierre - has acknowledged challenges with remote learning for a significant number of students

Weeks after removing the nightly curfew ahead of the just concluded Christmas festivities, the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell is faced with a dilemma of a surge in COVID-19 cases, which can delay the planned resumption of face-to-face learning for students in primary and secondary schools next week Monday.

The Ministry of Education had given notice of a return to the normal scheduling of classes amidst low COVID-19 positivity rates towards the end of November.

However, in a brief unsigned release on Wednesday from the Government Information Service (GIS), it indicated that due to the “noticeable increase in COVID-19 cases” the Ministry of Education is awaiting further guidance from the Ministry of Health and Cabinet on the way forward.

The GIS statement also promised to “notify all stakeholders of necessary adjustments by today (Friday, December 31), and advised all concerned to continue to make preparations for full reopening on Monday, January 3, 2022.”

The Ministry of Health’s data for Wednesday night shows that while the death toll of 200 has not increased in several months, the island recorded 64 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total figure to 6073 since the virus was first detected in March 2020.

Most of the cases discovered in Grenada came in the August to October period this year as the delta variant swept through the island including the homes for Elderly persons which lost a number of inmates.

The recent increase in COVID-19 cases may force the backpedaling of the government’s decision to reopen schools with the “full accommodation of students” for the Hilary Term.

Before this development, the newly elected Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Attorney-at-Law Dickon Mitchell voiced strong opposition to the budgetary plans of the Mitchell government for Education in 2022, expressing the view that it is “not forward-looking enough” as it does not reflect those of a government that has learned the lessons of COVID-19.

According to Dickon Mitchell, the plan “does nothing to bridge the gap or to bring more of our students in a position where they can access online learning.”

He disagreed with the government’s intent to spend “close to $50 million” on the infrastructure of schools at this time, as opposed to prioritising “internet access throughout Grenada to ensure that “our students have access to online education in 2022.”

In October, Education Minister Emmalin Pierre alluded to concerns regarding the “limited impact” of remote learning for a significant number of students who were required to but never engaged in online learning since the onset of COVID-19.

The Ministry of Education had moved to address the challenge of the many students who remained without Internet access, with the introduction of a phased approach to face-to-face learning in November, starting with students in exit grades.

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There have been varying opinions on the government’s approach to education during the ongoing pandemic.

Private Sector Representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Christopher De Allie believes that vaccine mandates are the only way to ensure the return to face-to-face learning due to the disadvantages of blended learning.

“I don’t understand for the life of me why our students are not mandated to be vaccinated, and we want to talk about face-to-face (learning). We (are) joking,” Sen. De Allie told a Senate sitting days before Wednesday’s development.

“We have to vaccinate our children, this is nothing new to us. For us to go to school in the first place we have to show our vaccination card…I don’t know what makes this different…” he added.

Last week, St. George’s University (SGU) added a COVID-19 booster vaccine requirement for faculty and staff to receive by January 10 for access to its True Blue campus.

According to an official SGU statement, students and faculty travelling out of Grenada for the holiday season are encouraged to get a booster shot at their intended destination to help preserve the Government of Grenada’s vaccine stock.

The Ministry of Health has identified “increases in social gatherings, non-adherence to protocols, and a rise in travel to, and from Grenada,” as factors that can account for the “expected” rise in COVID-19 cases.

The newest and extremely transmissible COVID-19 variant – Omicron – has already been detected in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent & The Grenadines, Bermuda, Cuba, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

A Ministry of Health release on Wednesday said that it has taken “all the necessary measures to prevent a repeat of the detrimental effects of the surge which occurred from August to October,” which includes “strengthening of surveillance at ports of entry (and)  improvements in the country’s health systems.”

“We do not want to revisit our past experiences, but this largely depends on each individual’s behaviour, adhering to protocols that are intended to protect ourselves, and by extension our community and our country”.

“We also do not want to revisit the days of curfew, lockdowns, and other stringent measures. So, we are asking the general public to be mindful of COVID-19 during their everyday activities.

“The end of the year is usually filled with many social events as persons gather to ring in the New Year. We appeal to everyone to act responsibly,” the release quoted Senior Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Myanna Charles as saying.