REOPENING educational institutes during the coronavirus pandemic was never going to be easy. Of late, the challenge for the authorities and school teachers has become even more difficult as some schools and colleges have reported active Covid-19 cases or have been found violating SOPs.
Some schools were sealed in Karachi this week after a surprise visit by the Sindh education minister revealed that pre-primary classes were going on although only students of classes 9 to 12 have been allowed to go back to school. In fact, in view of SOP violations, the minister on Friday announced a week’s delay in the resumption of classes 6 to 8 in the province. In Peshawar, the health department recommended the sealing of some schools and classrooms in the city as well as in other areas of KP after Covid-19 cases were detected among students and staff. Several private schools were also sealed for violating SOPs. In Islamabad, too, some students and staff tested positive.
With research indicating low risk to children, it was important for schools to be reopened after prolonged disruption. Students have suffered tremendously during the lockdown and the government’s decision to reopen educational institutes as the national tally of overall cases lowered was a pragmatic step towards normalcy.
But the threat from Covid-19 at these institutes is ever-present. Schools can be super-spreading venues, and, although the risk to young people is comparatively low, students can transmit Covid-19 to vulnerable people in their communities and households.
If the government wishes to control the spread of the virus with the success it demonstrated in recent months, it must tackle the presence of Covid-19 cases in schools proactively. This can only be possible if testing is increased.
At present, we have just about crossed a daily testing total of 33,000 — a figure which is far too low when we consider that around the same number of tests were carried out during the peak of the pandemic when the country was in lockdown. For the first time in a month, 700 new Covid-19 cases were reported in a single day on Sept 17. To protect vulnerable citizens and healthcare workers who have made tremendous sacrifices in this crisis, testing must be increased and random sampling conducted in schools so that the chances of a second wave can be minimised. Unless that is done, all efforts would have been of no use.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2020