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Uganda ended the world’s longest school closure on Monday, ordering millions of students back to the classroom nearly two years after learning was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some 15 million pupils have not attended school in Uganda since March 2020 when classrooms were shuttered as COVID-19 swept the world.

Uganda Education Minister John Muyingo

Education Minister John Muyingo said all students would automatically resume classes a year above where they left off.

“All schools have implemented guidelines and standard operating procedures to ensure the safe return of children to schools, and measures have been put in place to ensure those who don’t comply do so,” he told journalists.

Muyingo said any private schools demanding fees above pre-pandemic rates would be sanctioned.

The rush to return children to school clogged traffic in the capital Kampala.

Child rights groups had criticised Uganda’s decision to keep schools fully or partially shuttered for 83 weeks, longer than anywhere else in the world.

“We can’t let this happen again. We must keep schools open for every child, everywhere,” the UN child rights group UNICEF said on Twitter.

The charity Save the Children said students would struggle to adapt after falling so far behind, and warned there could be high dropout rates in coming weeks without urgent intervention to support learners.

Uganda has recorded 153,762 cases of COVID-19 and 3,339 deaths, according to the latest government figures issued on January 7.

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