PESHAWAR: The health department has started screening for Covid-19 in schools in 11 districts of the province in accordance with the guidelines issued by Ministry of Health Services, Regulations and Coordination to ascertain the level of prevalence of the infection in students, teachers and other staff members.

“The districts have been selected on the basis of number of Covid-19 cases there during the last few months. Children have remained safe from the pandemic in the entire world but they are being tested because they can infect their parents and others in the community,” a senior health official told this scribe.

He said that the parents of students and other people in older age groups or with underlying health conditions were prone to the infection. Therefore, the exercise had been recommended by the government to safeguard children, he added.

The positivity of samples has decreased to 0.3 per cent and 0.8 per cent in Swat and Peshawar, respectively, the two highly infected districts of the province, but authorities are unsure about its causes. So the screening in schools is being carried to know the rate of infection among the inmates of the educational institutes.

On Wednesday, a meeting among secretaries of health, higher education department and elementary education department was held that discussed the overall situation with regard to school screening. The meeting decided to take stock of situation on daily basis and make decision accordingly.

Initially 1,500 tests being conducted daily at randomly selected schools

“The screening and testing process will continue in the 11 designated districts to ascertain the level of positivity in schools. If we don’t find cases in those districts, then we will move to another district next week,” said the official.

He said that government had set a target of 3,000 tests per day at the randomly selected schools but they were conducting 1,500 tests in the 11 districts in the initial phase that would give them the idea about the presence of virus among the educational institutes. The programme of testing would be covering the while province within a month, he added.

On the basis of the screening and testing, the government would be advised to resume educational activities in middle and primary schools, said the official.

“In the first phase, we have started testing in Peshawar, Swat, Mardan, Nowshera, Bannu, Abbottabad etc that have been reporting more cases and deaths due to Covid-19. In big cities like Peshawar, 300 tests are being conducted per day while in smaller ones, 100 samples are taken from schools,” he said.

The result of the first day samples will be available by tomorrow that will be reviewed by the secretaries of the departments concerned and decisions would be made about future line of action.

The official said that tests were conducted in 12 government laboratories in different districts and the results were shared with the health department by the district health officers concerned.

If a student tests positive, the family will be subjected to testing and the classroom will be closed for five days. If more than one case is detected, the whole school will stay shut for five days and will be reopened after disinfection.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has so far recorded 1,257 deaths due to Covid-19 and 37,140 cases since the onset of the pandemic. However, 35,181 patients have recovered and there are only 702 active cases in the province.

The continuous decline in the number of cases is a source of satisfaction as there are only seven patients on ventilator in the hospitals of the province. However, there is no scientific proof about downtrend in cases due to which the government is carrying screening in schools to ensure that the disease doesn’t spread further.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2020