What will happen when parents sue government over COVID–19 infections in schools?

During the month of June 2020, we saw schools around the country beginning to re-open their doors for teaching and learning, after a long break caused by the outbreak of coronavirus in March.

Before this re-opening, schools were asked to sanitise classrooms and all their buildings, clean their ablution facilities and make provision for access to water and soap for learners, educators and all other staff. Schools were asked to ensure social distancing, ensure that all involved were properly orientated and trained on compliance issues relating to safety measures for the prevention of COVID-19. Officials of the Department were instructed to ensure the training of educators, learners, service-providers and all staff on the modalities of COVID-19, and we know that these were not effective at all.

Schools cannot even provide certificates as proof that schools were sanitised, and are continuing with daily sanitisation.

There was much engagement between government and teacher unions, learner organisations, parents’ organisations, civil society, political parties and other stakeholders on whether schools were ready for re-opening or not. As a result, dates for re-opening had to be changed and rescheduled in order to maximise these compliance measures.

Schools are now open. Educators, learners and all other staff are back at schools. Obviously, some educators, some learners, and some general staff in schools will contract COVID-19 during their time at school. What will happen when those who will get infected start suing government? Is government prepared for this eventuality? Where will money come from to fight these claims (if they happen), and where will money come from to settle them if they are successful?

As we speak, government departments of health in the provinces are under much strain due to the medico-legal claims that government continues to face, following health complications of patients that have been treated at public health institutions.

The potential candidate for the Republicans in the November 2020 elections in the USA, Mr Donald Trump, has indicated that he will shortly kick-start his campaign rallies for this election. In doing so, he has appealed with his supporters not to sue if they should contract COVID-19 while attending these rallies. Some countries in the world are considering whether or not to sue China on the basis that COVID-19 started there, before spreading throughout the world. So, it seems anything is possible. Are the provincial departments of education ready for COVID-19 claims?

Only time will tell.

Hon Mntomuhle B Khawula (MPL – KZN)
Contact number : 071 207 9445