KARACHI: Schools and colleges began reopening across Pakistan earlier this week, and in the last 24 hours, 752 new positive cases have been recorded, as well as nine deaths, according to National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).
Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi Campus had opened this week, but two positive cases emerged, and the campus has gone into lockdown once more.
Moreover, the Sindh Health Department has disclosed that eight employees of Matiari, Hala and New Saeedabad colleges have been diagnosed positive in coronavirus tests.
“Two professors and a senior clerk of Hala Girls College, have also been among the infected persons,” the department added.
An educational institute in Islamabad has been sealed after 16 cases were reported from the institution during targeted testing, said NCOC.
The closures came shortly after all educational institutions, including seminaries, reopened from Tuesday after a six-month break amid concerns over the implementation of Covid-19 safety protocols and fears of a second wave of the virus.
Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department confirmed that 34 pupils have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus since the reopening of schools in the province, in the span of just three days.
A spokesperson of the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department said that 24 students were tested positive for Covid-19 in Gujranwala, seven in Nankana Sahib and one in Bhakkar. He added that two staffers were also diagnosed with the virus in Lodhran and Bhakkar.
The spokesperson said that the government closed two educational institutions in Nankana Sahib after several Covid-19 cases were reported there. He said that the authority disinfected all the educational institutions where the virus cases were reported. Any school will be shut for five days if two or more of its students test positive for Covid-19, the spokesperson added.
On Thursday, the government had shared that 16 educational institutions were closed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), one in Islamabad and five in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
KP Minister for Labour Shaukat Yousafzai has dropped a hint at reviewing the decision for reopening educational institutions if a spike is seen in Covid-19 cases.
Yousafzai, in a statement on Friday, said that they cannot put the lives of students in danger and a unanimous decision will be made for educational institutions after witnessing a rise in Covid-19 cases.
“It had been decided to reopen educational institutions in phases in order to observe the rate of Covid-19 spread. We will take strict action against the education centres involved in the violation of standard operating procedures (SOPs),” he said.
“covid-19 cases in Pakistan have been significantly reduced by following the SOPs. The government is very careful about the health of the students. All major chains of schools are adopting precautionary measures. KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan is willing to visit schools by himself to check the arrangements,” he further said.
Yousafzai warned that the government will close those schools for 15 to 30 days which are not following the SOPs.
Meanwhile, coronavirus has been detected in 88 schools teachers in Sindh, according to an education department statement issued on Friday.
Due to fears of the novel coronavirus, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani on Friday delayed reopening of schools for sixth, seventh and eighth grades, which had previously been scheduled for 21 September.
“Our purpose is not to shut down schools permanently […] we simply seek for them to mend their ways when we see they are not fulfilling their responsibility. They should follow through with the commitments made,” he said while addressing a press conference.
He also spoke on how government institutions and private schools were not effectively following the standard operating procedures (SOPs). “And the following of safety protocols is not to be done for our satisfaction. Our children go to these schools. It is a question of their health and safety,” he added.
According to the guidelines issued by the government, the use of masks is mandatory for all teachers and students, while schools, colleges and universities will ensure the presence of hand sanitizers at the entrance.
Due to the lack of SOPs in schools, the education minister said that four schools had been sealed yesterday. Of these, three were “probably not even registered”.
“Yes, marketplaces and cinemas are open, rallies and religious processions were carried out. But you have a choice in the matter. When it comes to schools, many children simply do not have the choice to not attend. When a child has to go to school, it is the government’s responsibility as well as that of parents to decide what is better for him,” he emphasised.
He further added, “Our purpose is not to shut down schools permanently […] we simply seek for them to mend their ways when we see they are not fulfilling their responsibility. They should follow through with the commitments made.”
“We want schools to reopen but when they do, we should be free of any worry that if they do go to school they will not be so exposed to the risk of catching any illness,” the minister said to media persons. He underscored the importance of protecting children instead of helping schools recover from their losses.
Ghani also asked the media persons to spread awareness of the novel coronavirus and protective measures which could be taken to help curb the disease.
Regarding the delay in reopening schools for the aforementioned classes, the education minister said the decision would be reviewed on 28 September. “I will get in touch with the federal ministers and will request a meeting of the inter-provincial education ministers committee so that a uniform decision is taken across the country,” Ghani added.
However, Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood later in the day denied any change in plan over the phase-wise reopening of the schools across the country and said that a meeting would be held on September 22 before the resumption of other classes of schools in the second phase.
His remarks came after the Sindh government today announced to postpone reopening of schools in the second phase amid a surge in Covid-19 cases across the province.
“Our timetable is not yet changed,” said Mahmood adding, “Before taking the decision to postpone the second phase, Sindh Minister Saeed Ghani should have taken us into confidence on the matter.”
The federal education minister said that Sindh had decided on their own without consulting them.
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan has said that the provincial government will further increase the testing to contain the spread of coronavirus disease during his visit to NCOC on Friday.
The chief minister was given a detailed briefing on overall disease prevalence and specific issues to Balochistan. The NCOC apprised the chief minister that additional testing laboratories will be established in three districts of Balochistan to assist in more testing.
The number of positive cases of Covid-19 has surged to 304,386 nationwide, while the tally of fatalities has jumped to 6,408.
Pakistan has so far conducted 3,090,660 coronavirus tests and 33,865 in last 24 hours. 291,683 coronavirus patients have recovered in the country whereas 579 patients are in critical condition. Pakistan at present stands at number 17 among the list of countries affected by the coronavirus disease.