Pakistan announces reopening schools in phases

KARACHI, Pakistan

Pakistan on Monday announced that all the schools across the country will reopen from Sept. 15, ending a six-month closure propelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Announcing the decision after a meeting of the provincial education ministers in the capital Islamabad, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said that some 300,000 schools, colleges, and universities will reopen in phases starting from Sept. 15, in an attempt to avoid another wave of the virus.

In the first phases, Mahmood said all the institutions of higher learning across the country will reopen from Sept. 15, whereas students in grade nine to 12 will also be returning to school on the same day.

“If all goes well,” he added, students in grade six to eight will return to school on Sept. 23, while students in nursery to grade five will be back to school on Sept. 30.

The decision will also be applied on over 30,000 religious seminaries across the country.

“All the schools will have to strictly follow the SOPs [standard operating procedures]. A strict disciplinary action will be taken against violators,” Mahmood warned.

Mask, which has become a rare sight throughout the country following a sharp decline in number of coronavirus cases over the past few months, will be mandatory for all the teachers, and the students.

Faisal Sultan, prime minister’s adviser on health Affairs, who effectively acts as health minister, said the normal strength of a class would be reduced by half in order to contain the chances of another outbreak.

Latest surveys show the number of parents opposing the reopening of schools have declined from 73% to only 37% in the last two months.

Pakistan is among a handful of countries to have witnessed a dramatic drop in coronavirus cases, from nearly 7,000 to merely 300 plus daily cases over the past few months, with daily fatalities from the novel virus hovering in the single digits each day.

The country has so far recorded 298,903 cases, of which 286,010 have recovered, according to Health Ministry data.

The number of fatalities from COVID-19 stands at 6,345.

The government is currently following a "mini smart lockdown" strategy. Instead of closing entire streets or shopping centers, only houses or workplaces where infections are reported will be sealed./aa