Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Wednesday that educational institutions in seven cities of Punjab will close down for two weeks from March 15 (Monday) in light of rising Covid-19 cases.
The minister was addressing a press conference alongside Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan shortly after the National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) reviewed the coronavirus situation at educational institutions.
Mahmood said spring break will begin in the following cities in Punjab and will continue till March 28.
He added that the same decision will also apply to educational institutions in Islamabad. The decision regarding Muzaffarabad will be taken by the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Government, he said.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he specified that the directive will only be applicable to schools in Peshawar where a high positivity rate has been recorded. "In Peshawar, all educational institutions will remain closed from March 15 to March 28. Half of the students will keep attending classes in other districts."
He said that the provincial governments will keep reviewing the situation and, if the situation is worsening, will close schools where necessary. "A constant review will be going on," he said, adding that the NCOC will also keep monitoring the situation.
The minister said that the decisions do not apply to examinations such as those for O and A levels. "All send-ups and exams being currently conducted will continue under proper SOPs," he said.
He said that it had previously been decided that exams for grade 9,10, 11 and 12 would be held during the period between May and June. "I think schools should continue monitoring their situations individually and where they see something unusual, they should inform the authorities."
Briefing the media at the start of the press conference, the minister said that all steps have to be taken while keeping in mind the nearly 50 million children that attend schools, colleges and universities. "This is a sector that has a direct effect on the spread of the disease," he said.
He stated that officials conducted an analysis of the situation in the entire country, adding that the situation in Sindh and Balochistan were satisfactory. "Therefore, it was decided that 50 per cent of all children would attend classes every day while maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks."
The minister added that all standard operating procedures (SOPs) previously enforced will continue to be followed. He added that on the other hand, the situation was not as satisfactory in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Decision to lift restrictions on indoor dining, weddings withdrawn
Meanwhile, the PM's aide stated that the country's healthcare system comes under pressure as the number of patients in medical institutions increases. "Therefore, we considered it prudent to tell you in a timely manner that cases are increasing and the positivity rate is also increasing," said Dr Sultan.
"We are seeing more patients in hospitals compared to a month ago," he said, adding that authorities were now stressing the use of face masks to curb the spread of the virus.
Speaking about the 50pc work from home policy, Dr Sultan said that the provinces were better informed about the areas where it should be followed.
However, he said that it would be enforced with immediate effect in Islamabad, while the time limit for commercial activities will be 10pm. This is not applicable to essential services like pharmacies, he said.
He added that amusements parks across the country will close down at 6pm. "If any province or city wants to close earlier, they can exercise their own judgement."
He added that earlier it was decided to lift restrictions on indoor weddings, dine-in restaurants and cinemas by March 15. However, in light of the current situation, that decision has been withdrawn.
"Outdoor dining and outdoor policy will continue from March 15 to April 15," he said, adding that this will be reviewed again at the end of this period.
"Outdoor weddings will continue as well as a limit of 300 guests. The review of all these steps will be done on April 1," he said. "These are baseline decisions. If any province wishes to take further steps according to their numbers, then they have the right to do so."
The PM's aide added that the vaccination of those above 60 years of age had started on Wednesday and urged citizens to register themselves for inoculation.
Earlier today, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar presided over the NCOC meeting attended ministers from all the provinces and federating units.
The forum was given comprehensive update and review about non-pharmaceutical interventions already issued and which were valid till March 15, a press release said.
In view of prevailing diseases pattern and rising positivity ratio, the meeting decided the following:
- Strict compliance of mask wearing will continue across the board
- Smart lockdowns/ micro-smart lockdowns will continue to be imposed based on disease prevalence
- 50pc work from home policy will be implemented on the discretion of federating units. However, it will be enforced in Islamabad with immediate effect
- Time limit of 10pm on all commercial activities will be re-enforced with immediate effect
- Amusement parks across the country will be closed at 6pm
- Earlier decision of allowing indoor weddings, indoor dining and opening of cinemas and shrines with effect from March 15 has been withdrawn. However, outdoor dining/ takeaway will continue to remain open as per previous practice
- Outdoor gatherings will continue to remain limited to a maximum of 300 individuals with strict enforcement of Covid-19 SOPs
- Review of all enforced non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) will be carried out on April 12
"The decisions regarding NPIs are the baseline decisions. Federating units are at liberty to impose stricter NPIs in selected cities or districts keeping in view the local disease spread," the press release said.