Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Wednesday that all educational institutions in seven cities of Punjab will close down from March 15 for two weeks due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.
"Educational institutions in Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Lahore, Gujarat, Multan, Rawalpindi, and Silakot will be closed from March 15 for spring holidays until March 28," Shafqat said.
According to the education minister, situation in Muzaffarabad was being reviewed at the moment and a decision regarding it will be taken accordingly.
Mahmood announced the decision during a media briefing held following a meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC). Special Advisor Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan was also present on the occasion.
He added that the government will review the situation in April and make further decisions, further allowing schools to review the situation related to the cases on their own and take decisions accordingly.
The education minister reiterated that exams of classes 9, 10, 11 and 12, earlier scheduled for the months of May and June, will take place as planned.
The education minister further informed that the examination policy will remain the same for both domestic and foreign boards.
Commenting on the current situation, he said, "The good news is that the situation in Sindh and Balochistan is relatively better which is why they can continue to function [as per routine].”
“Cases have relatively escalated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit,” the minister said.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Sultan informed that the government has decided to withdraw the permission given to resume indoor weddings, dine-in, cinemas and shrines, in view of the current circumstances.
“The indication that was earlier given for March 15 for indoor gatherings is being withdrawn, while directions for outdoor gathering will remain the same,” he added.
The health advisor further appealed to the people to adhere to the SOPs, including observing social distancing and wearing masks since cases had surged again.
Regarding vaccinations, Dr Sultan said that the elderly will be administered vaccine jabs from today, as per the released schedule.
Punjab Minister for Education Murad Raas also tweeted regarding the decision announced following the NCOC meeting.
ANNOUNCEMENT:— Murad Raas (@DrMuradPTI) March 10, 2021
Spring Break in all Public & Private Schools of Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Rawalpindi, Multan, Sialkot will be from March 15th, 2021 to March 28th, 2021. All Public & Private schools in rest of the Districts will follow regular schedule.
Open as usual
However, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani clarified soon after the announcement that educational institutions across the province will remain open as usual.
“All educational institutions in Sindh are instructed to call only 50% of the children and this trend will continue,” Ghani said.
Ghani said that educational institutions in some cities of Punjab and K-P have already been closed for 15 days, for the spring holidays, due to the increase in the rate of Covid-19, as per NCOC guidelines.
However, he added, there are no such holidays in Sindh.
The provincial minister further maintained that the decisions taken in the last meeting of the steering committee of the Sindh Education Department will continue to be implemented.
He further said that educational institutions will only be closed if there are cases of Covid-19 detected
“There is no truth in the news of closure of educational institutions in Sindh from March 15,” the education minister clarified.
On March 8, the NCOC decided to revisit the modalities of reopening schools in the prevailing rising trend of Covid-19 across the country.
Earlier, in February, with the novel coronavirus cases dropping in Pakistan, the federal government decided to lift the time limit for commercial activities and amusement parks as well as the condition for public/private offices to enforce 50% work-from-home policy for staff.
Covid-19 first emerged in the country in February last year and hit a peak in mid-June. However, it started to decline in the following months but surged again in October 2020, prompting the government to issue a warning of a second wave.
Earlier, during the same month, the NCOC unveiled a comprehensive plan to administer the vaccine for the Covid-19 across the country. It said that the vaccine strategy plan had been formulated by the federation in consultation with all provinces and stakeholders.
Universities to go online for two weeks in virus hotspots
Following announcement by the government for spring holidays in academic institutions in the selected cities due to recent upsurge in Covid-19 cases, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has said that all universities shall continue to operate as per guidelines issued earlier except for the universities and higher education institutions (HEIs) in the following cities: Faisalabad, Lahore, Multan, Sialkot, Peshawar, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
All universities and HEIs in the above-mentioned cities shall remain closed for physical attendance during March 15-28, 2021.
However, academic activities will continue online during this period. Moreover, on-going and pre-scheduled exams can be conducted as planned with complete observance of Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
Universities are advised to ensure strict observance of the Covid-19 minimum health and safety protocols including thermal scanning, wearing facemasks, social distancing, availability and regular use of sanitisers and disinfection of buildings. In addition, Universities are advised to seek further guidance, if required from the chair or the provincial/regional members of the Covid-19 oversight committee or email at [email protected]