School closure in virus hotspots extended till April 11
The education minister said that the situation will be reviewed again on April 7
The government announced on Wednesday extension in the closure of educational institutions in coronavirus hotspots for two more weeks, as the third wave of the pandemic continued its pace of spread across the country.
An inter-provincial meeting of ministers of education and health, held at the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) discussed the recent spike in the Covid-19 cases and decided that more educational institutions could be closed in high-risk areas.
On March 10, the government ordered closure of schools in the Covid-19 hotspots for two weeks from March 15. The meeting on Wednesday extended the closure “in the high-risk areas and specific districts” of the country until April 11.
“All educational institutions – schools, colleges, universities, madrassas, academies – in the 9 districts of Punjab will be closed till April 11,” federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood told a press conference after holding the inter-provincial meeting.
“More educational institutions could be closed in high-risk areas and selected districts as per discretion of the provinces,” the minister said, adding that examinations would be held as per schedule but the Cambridge authorities would be contacted to delay O and A level exams.
The O and A levels Cambridge examinations are scheduled from April 26, Mahmood said. “We are going to hold a meeting with Cambridge authorities for postponing the examinations due to upward trend in the pandemic and the decision in that regard will be made afterward,” he added.
“We are cognisant of the fact that the closure of educational institutions time and again was causing students loss but their health was top priority and the government would not make any compromise on it,” the minister said.
The schools closure had been ordered in Rawalpindi, Lahore, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Sargodha, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Multan, Sheikhupura and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). The minister said spike in Covid cases had also been observed in a few areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Azad Kashmir.
The prevalence of disease in the Balochistan, Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan provinces was relatively low as compared to the ICT, Punjab, and K-P, the minister said, adding that all the matters were being considered in detail during the NCOC meeting.
Later in the day, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani told media persons after the NCOC meeting that all educational institutions in the province would remain open, stressing that the third wave of Covid-19 was under control.
“At present, the situation of coronavirus in Sindh is under control but if SOPs [standard operating procedures] are not implemented, problems may arise,” Ghani said. At present, he added, “schools will remain open as usual, but only 50% of children will be attending classes”.
Ghani added that all private and public educational institutions would be bound to fully implement SOPs and if any case of Covid-19 was detected in any educational institution, the school or college would be closed.
Regarding the examinations in the province, he said all examinations would be held as per schedule according to the decision of the steering committee of the education department. “It was agreed previously that no student would be promoted to any grade without examinations this year.”
In Peshawar, K-P Education Minister Shahram Tarakai said that closure of educational institutions in Peshawar, Mardan, Nowshera, Swabi, Charsadda, Kohat, Swat, Malakand, Lower Dir and Buner districts had been extended until April 11 in accordance with the guidelines of the NCOC.
Tarakai said that in the districts where schools have been kept open, the administrations had been directed to strictly implement the coronavirus SOPs. “We are monitoring the educational institutions ourselves and no negligence will be tolerated in this regard.”
Responding to a question about the board exams, he said that examinations would be conducted this year. “We pray that the situation will be under control by then,” the minister added in a statement issued here.
In the NCOC meeting, Shafqat Mahmood said the health department officials briefed the participants on the current situation. He added that another review of the pandemic situation would be made on April 7. “If some academies found violating the closure orders they will be sealed.”
Coronavirus first emerged in the country in February last year. The first wave of the disease started ebbing in July but the cases spiked again towards the end of the year, which the experts dubbed the second wave.
There is a fresh increase in the new infections since the advent of March. On March 12, Planning Minister Asad Umar, who heads the NCOC, attributed the spike to the UK strain of the virus, calling it the third wave of the pandemic.
Since then, the country is witnessing more than 3,000 new infections every day, gradually increasing the number of active Covid cases. On Wednesday, the NCOC said that the tally of active cases soared to 36,849 with 3,301 more people testing positive for the contagion in the last 24 hours.
The NCOC said in its daily update that 30 patients, of them 29 in hospitals, including 8 on ventilators, died during the past 24 hours, adding that most of the deaths occurred in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa followed by Punjab. It added 957 people also recovered from the disease.
With the latest tally, the caseload of the country rose to 637,042, with 586,228 people making full recovery. As of Wednesday, the nationwide death toll stood at 13,965. The NCOC also said 3,104 patients were admitted to hospitals across the country, including 364 on ventilators.
(WITH INPUT FROM APP)