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Students back to school after Ebola lay-off

22 September 2014, 06:54

Lagos - Students return to school on Monday after an enforced summer break because of Ebola, but with lingering fears about the virus and calls for a further delay by a major teachers' union.

Eight people have died from the 20 who have contracted the haemorrhagic fever in Nigeria.

Last month the government postponed resumption of classes at all public and private schools until October 13. But as the rate of confirmed cases began to slow, ministers brought forward the start of term to September 22.

Also Read: Liberia to provide 1000 Ebola beds in overwhelmed capital

There have now been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Nigeria for 10 days, although some 350 people remain under watch for symptoms of the virus in the financial capital, Lagos, and oil city of Port Hartcourt.

Yet concerns remain about the disease - spread through close contact with bodily fluids of a person displaying symptoms - which has claimed more than 2,630 lives in West Africa this year.

Nigeria's largest teachers' union said it was still too soon to start classes and called on its members to stay away from work. President Goodluck Jonathan has said the order was "uncalled for".

"The safety measures to contain the spread of Ebola have not been put in place," the head of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Michael Olukoya, told AFP.

Public v private

In postponing classes, the federal government ordered all schools to implement training programmes for staff in hygiene procedures, including temperature checks, and to put in place hand-washing facilities -- or face sanctions.

But there are signs that schools in the private and public sectors are at a different state of preparedness.

At St Gregory's Roman Catholic school in the Obalende area of Lagos -- within sight of the First Consultants hospital, where Nigeria's first Ebola patient died -- administrator Edmond Akpala said they were ready.

Also Read: S. Leone's Ebola shutdown uncovers 70 dead in capital

Everyone who steps onto the campus of the private, all-boys school will have to use hand-sanitiser, he said, adding that any further delay in resuming classes could affect students' education.

"Exams are coming in March.... If they don't resume, they may find it difficult to make their papers," he added.

At the state-run Somulu Senior High School, principal Ayodeji Fatoki said he was frustrated by the local government's response: days before school was to start, he was still waiting for promised help from the government.

"No sanitizers, no hand wash. Those things are not in place," he said.

It was only on Friday that the government told him supplies were available.

'Wash your hands'

Temperature checks and the use of hand sanitisers - as well as greater awareness about the dangers of sickness - have become a way of life in Lagos and elsewhere in Nigeria since the first confirmed Ebola death on July 25.

Airports, offices and even restaurants have introduced new hygiene rules as a matter of course. A public information campaign includes a giant electronic billboard next to First Consultants, at the bustling Obalende roundabout, ordering: "Wash your hands."

But after months of worries, students who broke up for the summer holidays back in July are just keen to get back to their books.

Also Read:World leaders to gather at UN to talk about Ebola and ISIS

Nigeria, where education is seen by most as a key to escaping poverty, already more than 10.5 million children are out of school - the most in the world, the United Nations children's fund UNICEF said in June.

"It's going to slow down the children's education" if classes aren't resumed, said Fatai Oduntan, a recent high school graduate, as he shopped in Lagos' Somulu neighbourhood.

Nevertheless, some students remained cautious.

"Maybe they should resume some other time," said Dorcas Sofadi, a student at a boarding school.



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