- There should be no re-judgement
Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood seemed to be painting himself into a corner when he tweeted on Saturday that the schedule for re-opening schools would be maintained. Considering the upward ticking of new coronavirus cases, with 645 new cases reported on Saturday, it seems that the reopening of schools has, as expected, led to a reversal of the effort to end the pandemic in Pakistan. There are obvious arguments in favour of reopening. Children have lost a term because of the six-month closure, and should not be made to lose further education. There is also the dropout ratio to consider, as the longer a closure, the fewer children return to school. Then there is the economy of the individual schools, with parents reluctant to pay fees if holidays are prolonged. This in turn makes schools not happy about paying teachers. If the economy is to get moving, schools need reopening.
But at what cost? The rise in the number of cases will inevitably translate into more deaths and more patients straining health facilities. It is not as if this was a bolt from the blue, because all countries, which have reopened their schools have undergone a sudden rise in infections, with the result in Israel of a re-imposition of a lockdown, and school closures in such countries as South Korea and Hong Kong. It might be mentioned that they had been held up as an example of how successful strict lockdown measures were, but schools reopening reversed some of the gains made.
The government has claimed it has been interested in protecting livelihoods, but the second wave is forcing governments to reimpose restrictions affecting the hospitality industry. Thus, the apparent recovery must not be jeopardized by the reopening of schools when it can easily be helped. While the coronavirus does not affect children that severely (though they are not entirely invulnerable), they are almost as effective carriers as adults. The reopening of schools is subject to review, with a meeting supposed to review the reopening. The PPP-run Sindh has already decided to close down again. There are lives at stake, not so much of children, as of the adults among whom they move and thus may infect. A shutdown decision should not be an ego problem for anyone, and the decision must be made on health professionals’ advice, as Mr Mahmoood himself tweeted.