‘Hasty decision’ of closure mars education, says minister

Updated 20 Sep 2020

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QUETTA: A school is seen closed on Saturday as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus. — PPI
QUETTA: A school is seen closed on Saturday as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus. — PPI

• Experts fear rise in cases with drop in temperature, SOPs violations
• PM’s aide sees intensive testing behind recent surge

ISLAMABAD: Federal Educa­tion Minister Shafqat Mahmood on Saturday warned against ‘any hasty decision’ to close institutions, as tens of educational institutions were closed soon after their reop­e­ning across the country over viola­tion of Standard Operating Proce­dures (SOPs) and detection of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) cases among some students, teachers and other staff, while Sindh had already decided to delay the reopening of middle schools for another week.

“There is no change regarding the timetable announced earlier after inter provincial meeting of education ministers. We will meet in the NCOC on 22nd to decide finally but if the current trend remains, no reason to postpone 6 to 8 opening on 23rd September,” the federal minister in a tweet declared, before claiming that health of “students is our first priority and any decision we make will be guided by the advice of health ministry.

“Having said that 6 months clo­sure deeply affected the students. Decision to open was taken with great care. Any hasty decision to close will destroy education.”

In Balochistan, a university was closed while another postponed resumption of classes amid reported cases of coronavirus. The provincial government claimed that 67 cases had been detected in educational institutions since their reopening on September 15. At least 10 government-run schools in Quetta, Zhob and other areas were also closed following the emergence of coronavirus cases.

As a precautionary measure, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has suggested that like Sindh, the federal and provincial governments should also delay the reopening of middle schools. The health professionals’ association feared that the number of Covid-19 cases could surge in the coming days. The PMA, however, believed the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Covid-19 should take such decisions, considering drop in temperature and violation of SOPs.

However, Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan rejected such fears and made it clear that the “slight increase” [in cases] should not be attributed to the reopening of the educational institutions. He said the incubation period of the virus was one week while the institutions were reopened on September 15.

‘Aggressive testing’

The PM’s aide said that there was a ‘global trend of increase’ in cases, but in Pakistan, aggressive testing was the reason for the [recent] increase in number of cases.

For the last few days, the number of cases has started increasing, with the number of patients on ventilators hovering in three digits again after remaining in double digits for some time.

PMA General Secretary Dr Qaisar Sajjad told Dawn that as compared to other countries, in Pakistan, virus behaved differently. “While number of cases was increasing in other countries, opposite to estimates, in Pakistan numbers started to drop and in August per day only 200 to 300 cases were being reported,” he said, but it was yet to be ascertained whether the people had developed immunity or there could be some other reason for the dwindling numbers. “It is being observed that the cases have again started increasing in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, etc. In Australia, curfew has been imposed due to increasing number of cases,” Dr Sajjad said.

Read: Is Pakistan at risk of a second Covid-19 wave?

90pc people violate SOPs

In Pakistan, he said, 90 per cent of people believed that the virus had already been defeated and eradicated, as they had stopped following the SOPs. “Even educated people have again started shaking hand and they even hug each other.”

The PMA general secretary said: “I believe the decrease in temperature is also a reason for increase in cases, as viruses of influenza and corona family become more active in low temperature.”

Dr Sajjad in reply to a question said students should be allowed to remove face masks for 10 minutes after every couple of hours, as high level of carbon dioxide in the body could cause death among children. He said school administration should be bound to hold antibodies tests of staff and students. “If antibodies tests are found positive, teachers and students can teach and study without taking any precautionary measures and all the attention should be given to those who have not contracted virus,” he added.

“Sindh has rightly decided to delay opening of middle standard schools, but that sort of decisions should be taken at the platform of NCOC to avoid confusion. Other provinces and federal govt should also take similar decision,” he said.

Balochistan closes 10 schools

The Balochistan authorities, meanwhile, closed a university and 10 government-run schools in Quetta and other cities during the past 24 hours after detecting deadly virus in large number of students and teachers after reopening of varsities, colleges and high schools.

Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University Quetta postponed the resumption of classes, which were scheduled to commence from September 21, while Balochistan University has been closed amid reported cases of coronavirus.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday evening, spokesman for the Balochistan government Liaquat Shahwani said: “Balochistan University was closed after reports of coronavirus cases.” He said 67 Covid-19 cases had been confirmed in educational institutions since September 15.

Apart from this, 10 government-run schools were closed in Quetta, Zhob, and other parts of Balochistan after reports of Covid-19 cases. “The educational institution that reported more than two cases would be closed,” said Mr Shahwani.

He feared that the number of cases could increase further in October. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, Balochistan has reported a total of 14,138 cases with 145 deaths.

Mr Shahwani said random testing would be conducted at educational institutions. “Around 1,000 tests have already been conducted in Balochistan,” he said, claiming that the positive cases ratio in educational institutions was 14 per cent. “We want to expand the process of testing in Balochistan,” he said, adding that the provincial government would establish labs at the divisional level to reach out to the maximum number of patients.

The provincial government had reopened universities, colleges, and higher secondary schools after a gap of nearly eight months. The government also formed committees at district level to ensure implementation of the Standard Operating Procedures.

Positive ratio is same: PM’s aide

While talking to Dawn, PM’s aide on health Dr Sultan said there was a slight increase in number of cases but the rise should not be attributed to opening of school as incubation period of the virus was almost one week.

He then explained: “We were holding around 20,000 tests per day, but after opening of schools intensive testing has been started due to which number of daily tests has reached 30,000. Though number of positive cases is increased, the positive ratio to tests is still 2 per cent.”

Having said that, he said he was worried the masses had declared a victory against the Covid-19 and stopped wearing masks.

Dr Sultan said the decision about reopening or closing of schools would be taken from the platform of the NCOC.

Saleem Shahid in Quetta also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2020