More than 200 pupils and staff who returned to a boarding school in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province this month tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) on Tuesday, officials said.
Eastern Cape accounts for around 15 percent of South Africa’s 101,590 COVID-19 cases, making it the country’s third worst affected province.
The province’s health department announced the outbreak at Makaula Senior Secondary School in the rural town of KwaBhaca, where 204 students and staff members were found infected with the virus.
“Initially 24 learners tested positive last week with 180 others, which include hostel assistants, testing positive this week,” the department said in a statement, adding that all had been placed under isolation.
National education department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said they were among 283 pupils — final-year students — as well as 47 teachers and 42 support staff at the school. The 12th-grade students, as well as their middle school counterparts in the seventh grade, were the only ones allowed to return to the school because they are to write their final exams this year.
All others have been required to stay home since March when South Africa shuttered schools as part of measures to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Doctors are tracing and testing contacts in a bid to prevent further infections. The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU), the country’s largest for teachers, this week called for schools in Eastern Cape province to close again, citing lack of protective equipment and unreliable water supplies.
But Education Minister Angie Motshekga said cases in schools simply showed that “many people already had the virus but didn’t know it”.
“We will continue to work hard… to make sure that we protect our learners, teachers and employees,” Motshekga said in a statement.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance party blamed the Makaula outbreak on “negligence” over social distancing in classrooms and boarding facilities.