KARACHI: A day after the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, the Sindh government on Thursday decided that educational institutions across the province would remain closed until May 30. Meanwhile, the grade 9 and 10 examinations, scheduled to begin on Monday, have been postponed.
In a meeting of the Sindh cabinet late on Thursday night, it was decided that the extended closure of schools would be considered as the summer vacation, after which they would reopen on June 1. Chairing the meeting, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said that the government had to take drastic measures to contain the growing coronavirus threat.
Schools, colleges and universities, as well as tuition and coaching centres, have been closed across the province since February 27, after the country’s first coronavirus patient emerged in Karachi.
The decision comes after 14 people in Sindh, including 13 in the provincial capital, have tested positive for COVID-19.
Cricket without spectators
The provincial government also made the decision to hold the remaining HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL) in Karachi in an empty stadium without spectators. However, Thursday’s match was held as scheduled at National Stadium, Karachi.
Taking the decision while presiding over the daily coronavirus taskforce meeting, the CM said that although the matches would still be held, the government could not take further risks.
Sindh government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab, in a tweet, said that the decision had been made with the consultation of all stakeholders, including the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
In compliance with the Sindh government’s decision, the PCB will now stage the upcoming Karachi fixtures in deserted stadiums, with effect from today (Friday).
“Health and safety is paramount and takes precedence over cricket,” stated PCB chief executive officer Wasim Khan. He added that tickets would be refunded in line with the ticketing policy, through TCS and Yayvo, while further details would be shared soon.
Meanwhile, ahead of Thursday’s match, the Sindh health department issued an advisory for spectators, stating that those who had arrived from abroad in the last 15 days and those displaying symptoms of the virus would not be allowed to enter the stadium.
At the entrances of National Stadium, Karachi, health workers checked the body temperature of fans and showed them how to properly wash their hands, in an attempt to reduce the chances of contagion.
Meanwhile, in a video meeting with Dr Zafar Mirza, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on health, the chief minister said that Pakistan’s preparedness to contain the threat was weak, unorganised and lacking in national guidance.
“We are not prepared to face the pandemic because the provinces, especially Sindh, have been left alone to take their decisions without guidance from the federal government,” maintained Shah, calling it a dangerous state of affairs.
He pointed out that thousands of travellers were landing at airports across the country, without being checked even if they had symptoms. Sindh’s cases were detected after they had been cleared at the airport, he noted, but only because the provincial government was running from pillar to post to track travellers.
Matters pertaining to the closing of borders, shutting down of schools, checks at airports, quarantine arrangements and movement of travellers from Taftan should be decided at the national level, argued Shah. “Only Sindh and Balochistan have closed educational institutions, and we are taking these decisions in isolation.”
He informed the meeting that 2,683 travellers were quarantined at Taftan, of which 853 were from Sindh and would start returning to the province today (Friday) amid necessary arrangements.
The CM urged the Centre to adopt a zero-tolerance policy at airports, strengthen surveillance, increase quarantine capacity and boost awareness.
Separately, in an emergency press conference, Wahab said that it was ‘disappointing’ that the prime minister had held a meeting with the Sindh governor to review development projects, but had still not contacted the CM to discuss the coronavirus.
Wahab also revealed that a 64-year-old man who had earlier tested positive for the infectious disease had now recovered and tested negative for the infection. This is the second patient to have recovered from COVID-19.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2020.