PESHAWAR: The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination has issued guidelines to the provincial governments to adopt risk mitigation measures against Covid-19 transmission and warned that the re-opening of schools in the current month could lead to higher transmission of the virus in the country if the students and staff members didn’t follow precautions on campus.
It also called for the enforcement of guidelines in educational institutions, which will resume classes on Sept 15 (Tuesday).
Under the guidelines titled ‘Covid-19 Screening Strategy for Educational Institutes’, a class will be closed for the minimum five days in case of the detection of a confirmed Covid-19 case, while the entire school will stay closed for the minimum five days if more than one case emerges.
The premises will be disinfected for the resumption of classes.
The five-page document says the children suffering from coronavirus generally have no or mild symptoms of the disease but a small percentage of them have been reported to have more severe illness and can carry a higher viral load.
Ministry warns of higher viral transmission if precautions not taken seriously on campus
“The children transmit the disease in lower rates than adults.”
The guidelines said the closure of educational institutions was the single most effective social distancing measure enacted by the government against Covid-19 and the reopening of schools needed adherence to the standard operating procedures.
According to the ministry’s document, over 50 million children, adolescents and youth and 2.2 million faculty members will start going back to more than 300,000 educational institutions in the country for which surveillance for screening and active detection of Covid-19 has been proposed as a routine function.
“Surveillance has been divided into a regular health screening and sentinel screening with PCR tests. The former is proposed to be based on the established protocols of screening that include fever and symptom screening and contact screening while the latter will be based on the disease spread in the community.”
The document said the district health, education and administration had been tasked with conducting the visit of every school twice a month.
There will be no sentinel screening with PCR at schools in districts with zero confirmed case in the last 14 days, while PCR has been proposed in districts with more than one case in as many days.
“The exercise will help determine the level disease’s transmission in schools and will lead to informed local decisions about school opening and closures.”
The ministry’s document said the decisions to close schools should be made together by local officials, including school administrators and public health officials in a manner that is transparent for students, staff, parents, caregivers and guardians, and all community members.
It added that the district administration had been asked to follow the test, track and quarantine strategy for the immediate contacts of the identified cases at the family and community level.
The ministry said the guidelines were meant to get a good overview of disease transmission through high-quality data to determine spread of disease in educational institutions.
According to it, the screening will be conducted in schools in urban areas with more than 1,000 students and in rural areas with less than 1,000 students. For small districts with less than one million population, one school will be randomly selected from every sample group, where every 20th child will be tested in the selected schools.
The districts from one to two million population, three to five schools will be selected randomly and every 20th kid will be tested.
In districts with over two million population, five schools will be randomly selected from every sample group with testing of every 20th child. The sampling will be held on fortnightly basis.
Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2020