School buses operated by private basic schools to provide transportation for school children are flouting the covid-19 safety protocols in the New Juaben North and South municipalities raising public fears and concerns about the safety of school children.
The social distancing protocol is highly disregarded under these circumstances while the school children are cramped in the buses without nose masks, a situation, which raises concern about the safety of children at a time the third wave of covid-19 rages on.
There are over 90 private basic schools in the New Juaben North and South municipalities and all these schools operate transportation systems as a means of providing safe transportation for the school children to and from school each day at a fee.
Before the covid-19 pandemic, these school buses start their operations as early as 5.30 am to pick school children from all parts of the municipalities and they pick children as young as nine months old and many had expressed worry over how these buses overload the children.
The expectation was that, with the covid-19 situation and the safety protocols, the schools would have revised the mode of operation by picking the students in batches to ensure adequate space to observe the social/physical distancing and ensure that the children would wash their hands with soap under running water as soon they disembarked.
The GNA, under the Mobilising Media against covid-19, a project being implemented by the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) in collaboration with the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) has observed that a 33-seater bus, load as much as 73 school children with some of the children sitting on others.
Madam Joyce Affoh, a nurse and a parent who spoke in an interview, described the situation as worrying since the Delta variant was common among children, saying, apart from the covid-19, any communicable diseases could spread easily among these children.
She called on the appropriate authorities to ensure that schools adhered to the social and physical distancing protocols to prevent the spread of diseases, especially in the school community.
Most of the parents whose wards used these buses in an interview with the GNA said they had complained to the school authorities severally about the overloading and the latest covid-19 pandemic but to no avail.
Mrs Eugenia Effah, Eastern Regional Schools Health, and Education Programme (SHEP) Coordinator of the Ghana Education Service (GES) in an interview also expressed worry over the situation and indicated that her outfit have had series of meetings with the private schools on the overloading issue but has not yeiled any positive results.
She revealed that at a point in time, she had to stop a school bus which had overloaded to ensure that the driver picked the students in batches describing it as a worrying situation, especially in this era of covid-19.
The SHEP Coordinator indicated that before the covid-19 pandemic, the GES had observed that the school buses flouted the road traffic regulations, “and so, periodically we engage them on the need to operate the buses according to the set rules to prevent any disaster especially in this covid-19 era where many things had changed”.
“Instead of picking the children in batches to ensure social distancing, the schools want to be economical with fuel and so pick all the children at once cramping them in the process and flouting the covid-19 protocols”.
She said the situation called for concerted effort to tackle calling on the Motor Traffic and Transport Department of the Ghana Police Service as well as the National Road Safety Authority and all other stakeholders to join hands to address the situation.
As of September 2, over 5 million children had tested positive for covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic in the USA alone and according to UNICEF, children risk being the biggest victims, with children in all countries being infected.
According to UNICEF, while children appear to be largely spared with the direct mortality impacts of covid-19, the indirect effects stemming from strained health services such as immunization and ante-natal care could result in devastating increases in child deaths especially in developing countries, hence, the need to protect children from being infected.
The Child Rights International (CRI) reports indicated that as at December 2020, about 2,100 children under the age of 14 years had contracted covid-19, an indication that children must also keep to the preventive protocols especially when children under 18 years are excluded from the ongoing covid-19 vaccination world wide.
The issue of school buses and flouting of the road traffic regulations have been a public concern across the regions and it would be recalled that an Accra high court once ordered the Lamprey Mills School bus to be given out as scrap due to the rickety nature and risk it posed to the school children and other road users.