NCOC recommends early, extended winter vacations for students amid rising Covid positivity

11 Nov 2020

Email

Teachers disinfect hands of students upon their arrival at a school in Lahore on September 15. — AP/File
Teachers disinfect hands of students upon their arrival at a school in Lahore on September 15. — AP/File

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has recommended early and extended winter vacations for students amid a rise in the Covid-19 positivity ratio at educational institutions.

According to a statement issued on Wednesday by the NCOC, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar chaired a meeting of the forum and reviewed the epidemic curve data and the prevalence of the disease in the country.

The forum was told that positivity ratio was rising at educational institutions and there was a need to check this trend.

The forum decided that on November 16, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood will chair a special meeting at the NCOC to assess and review the positivity rate in educational institutions.

Provincial education ministers will also be taken on board, the statement said. It added that the recommendations decided upon would be shared with the provinces for decision-making and enforcement.

"The forum, taking into account a rising positivity ratio, has suggested early and extended winter vacations [...] to ensure safety and health of students," the statement added.

Last week, the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference had opposed long winter vacations. The ministers had recommended either no vacations or limiting them to a few days so that students could cover their courses.

Issuing guidelines regarding marriage ceremonies, the NCOC said on Wednesday that only outdoor events with a maximum of 500 people are allowed from November 20.

"The forum was told that the disease had increased three-fold since the NCOC recommended a ban on large public gatherings and outdoor activities on October 12 and November 3 to the National Coordination Committee (NCC) for its final decision. However consensus by all stakeholders is awaited," the statement said.

The forum also urged the NCC to increase restrictions on high risk sectors, particularly large public gatherings, and recommended urgent and emergency measures for final approval after consensus is reached by all stakeholders.

The NCOC appreciated compliance with standard operating procedures (SOPs) for curbing the spread of the virus at mosques so far, but noted a decline in compliance at present, the statement said. The forum urged all stakeholders to follow SOPs amid a possible second wave, it added.

The NCOC has suggested the following measures for input from all stakeholders and sent the recommendations to the NCC for approval:

  • A ban on all public gatherings of more than 500 people. This includes political, cultural, religious and civil society gatherings
  • Early and extended winter vacations after input from the federal and provincial education ministers
  • Only outdoor dining till 10pm and take-away
  • Closing down cinemas, theatres and shrines with immediate effect
  • Early closing of markets with "safe days"

Meanwhile, the federal planning minister said that a rapid increase in the country's Covid-19 positivity ratio required urgent steps to save "lives and livelihoods".

"Since mid-October, when the NCC first considered the NCOC recommendation to ban large public gatherings, daily cases have nearly tripled," he said.

"The national political leadership across the political spectrum needs to demonstrate leadership to send a message to the entire nation for taking preventive steps and following SOPs. Consensus needed in NCC for taking this decision which has been delayed due to a lack of consensus," he added.

A day earlier, the national positivity rate surpassed five per cent after a gap of more than three months.

The highest increase in confirmed cases was observed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir i.e. 16.71pc. Cases have increased by 8.71pc in Balochis­tan, 5.39pc in Sindh, 4.46pc in Punjab and 3.24pc in Gilgit-Baltistan, while in Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cases have decreased by 4.92pc and 4.61pc, respectively.

In Pakistan, the maximum positivity rate recorded was 23pc in June as it had increased from 6pc in May. By September, it had fallen to 1.7pc.

According to a presentation given at the NCOC on Tuesday, the positivity rate was 11.79pc on March 30, 19.95pc on May 25 and 22.24pc on June 1. Later, it started dropping and reached 16pc on July 6, 3pc on August 10 and 1.7pc on Sept 21. An upward trend in the positivity rate was spotted again next month as it reached 2.49pc on Oct 19, 4.26pc on Nov 2 and 5.13pc on Nov 10.

The participants of yesterday's meeting were also informed about Covid-19 testing data. Islamabad is on top in terms of tests per million population as 268,736 tests per million population (26.87pc) have been conducted in the federal capital.

Among other regions and provinces, Sindh conducted most tests. In Sindh, 36,347 tests per million population (3.63pc) were conducted, followed by Gilgit-Baltistan where 32,069 tests per million population (3.20pc) were done.

Similarly, Azad Jammu and Kashmir conducted 16,804 tests per million population achieving (1.68pc), followed by Punjab with 15,357 tests (1.53pc) per million population, KP with 14,679 tests (1.46pc) and Balochistan with 10,917 tests (1.09pc).