Students of Olympic Primary School wait in a line to have their temperatures measured at the entrance of the school in the early morning of the official re-opening day of public schools on January 4, 2021, in Kibera slum, Kenya, as students return to school following a nine-month closure ordered by the government in March 2020 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. (Photo AFP)
Millions of Kenyan pupils returned to school on Monday for the first time since classes were dismissed 10 months earlier due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mask-wearing students had their temperatures checked before entering school to repeat their lost academic year, in what was both a relief and a concern to their parents.
"As a parent I am pleased that the children are back in school," said mother Hildah Musimbi.
"At the moment we have got a lot of fear because we really don't know if other children in school have the virus or even if the teachers have the virus, or even if the support staff in school have the virus."
Kenya shut schools in March 2020 when the new coronavirus arrived in the country, and partially re-opened to select classes in October.
All primary and highschool students returned on Monday, while universities and colleges were free to open and would do so on varying dates.
"We are happy to be back in school, that was a long break," Mercy Nderi, a pupil at Kasarani Primary School in Nairobi said.
Teachers turned back students who were not wearing facemasks, while struggling to maintain social distancing in crowded classrooms.
"It is difficult because we don't have sufficient desks to ensure we keep children one metre (yard) away from each other but we are trying our best," said Mvurya Mumbia, a headteacher at Voi Primary School.
When schools were partially re-opened in October, there was a spike in COVID-19 cases, with pupils and teachers falling ill and at least one school principal dying.
Kenya has had almost 97,000 cases and over 1,600 deaths since the start of the outbreak, with a surge in its positivity rate of up to 20 percent in October decreasing to below five percent in the past week.
"The turnout is good and as you have seen, apart from crowding, all students are wearing their masks and teachers are ready to teach so let us support them," Education Minister George Magoha said when he toured Olympic Primary School in Nairobi's Kibera slum, the largest in the country with 4,700 pupils.
"There is no reason why parents should fail to send children to school," he said.
"We have put in place adequate safety measures but they need to ensure they give them masks."
President Uhuru Kenyatta this weekend extended a 10:00pm to 4:00am curfew until March 12.
Kenyans have been under some form of nighttime curfew since March 25 last year, when they were ordered to stay indoors from 7:00pm. In July this was moved back to 9:00pm and in September to 11:00pm, before being taken back to 10:00pm in November as cases soared.