Thousands of children in face masks flocked back to school in Ivory Coast on Monday after the country became one of the first in West Africa to restart lessons after a two-month coronavirus shutdown.
With a total of 2,376 cases and dozens of new infections each day, Ivory Coast has yet to contain the virus. But authorities are confident pupils can study together in safety after the introduction of extra hygiene measures.
In Abidjan’s Adjame neighbourhood, children in backpacks queued to wash their hands under a teacher’s watchful eye before entering their school, where they sat just one to a desk with bottles of sanitising gel within reach.
At first we were a little scared. When we saw that the protective measures were being respected, the fear went away.
“At first we were a little scared. When we saw that the protective measures were being respected, the fear went away,” said 14-year-old Samira Cisse.
Nearby countries are likely to follow closely whether the Ivory Coast’s decision to reopen schools causes a spike in infection. With millions of children still at home, aid agency Save the Children says many could face serious setbacks due to limited options for distance learning in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Ivorian education ministry told Reuters it appreciated the seriousness of its decision.
“We also have an imperative duty to ensure that the children entrusted to us can complete their education,” said ministry official Assoumou Kabran.
Reopening classrooms also means thousands of pupils and their teachers must be ferried back to boarding schools outside Abidjan, epicentre of the epidemic.
French teacher Patrick Yobouet, 38, waited with hundreds of others in a sun-baked stadium to board buses out of the city.
“We’re a bit worried as we leave, because we don’t know if we have the coronavirus or not or if the children are contaminated or not,” he said.