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Full classes despite Corona

by Mireille Kanyange


The first Covid-19 case was recorded in Burundi in early March 2020. The pandemic had thereby officially reached the small East African country. Nevertheless, schools from primary to university level have stayed open.

Burundi’s government has only introduced certain protective measures, mainly focusing on thorough hand washing with soap and water. Schools provide chlorinated water, soap and other disinfectants.

After two people died from Covid-19, Burundi closed its borders. For five months no one could get in or out by plane, by boat or over land. On 8 November, the borders opened again.

Throughout this time, classrooms remained as full as ever. There are up to 100 students in a class in Burundi, with three sharing a bench. They did not have to keep their distance or wear masks. That was only compulsory in churches.

While schools and universities in neighbouring countries were closed, in Burundi they continued to run as normal. The school year that started in September 2019 ended in July 2020 without any restrictions. To date, the Corona pandemic has not affected the way classes are conducted.

The exception is some international schools. They require mask-wearing and strict hand-washing. Spacing out of students is possible because they have few pupils per class. Some schools even shut down last school year – prompting a warning from the authorities.

At the beginning of 2021 the number of people infected with Corona increased again in Burundi. When the second term began in schools, 140 new cases were recorded in one week. Burundi again closed its borders to shipping and land transport; only goods transported by truck are still allowed in. Air travellers have to show a negative Corona test on entry and another one after six days of quarantine, which is obligatory for all arrivals.

The Ministry of Health organised free rapid mass testing at three locations in Bujumbura, by far the largest city in the country. The campaign started on 11 January and lasted 30 days. There had also been mass testing from July to September.

Classes continue, but the government is calling on people to take precautions. Wearing masks is now also recommended in schools. But it is only compulsory on public transport. The Cubahiro International School in Bujumbura recorded a Corona case in January; school administrators subsequently closed the school for two weeks.

Mireille Kanyange is a journalist and reporter for Radio Isanganiro in Burundi.