• Two-week spring break announced in educational institutions of 10 cities
• Final exams to go ahead as per schedule
• 1,786 cases, 43 deaths reported in single day
• Study claims 15m people in Pakistan infected
ISLAMABAD: With no let-up in Covid-19 cases, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Wednesday re-imposed a number of restrictions that had been in force in the country prior to Feb 24.
The centre announced a two-week spring vacation in educational institutions in 10 cities whereas Balochistan and Sindh were suggested to limit attendance to 50 per cent.
It decided to continue smart lockdowns and micro smart lockdowns and re-enforce 50pc work from home policy and time limit of 10pm on all commercial activities with immediate effect. Amusement parks will be closed at 6pm and strict compliance of standard operating procedures (SOPs) will continue across the board.
On the other hand, Covid-19 vaccination for senior citizens started across the country.
The NCOC had eased restrictions on commercial activities and official work on Feb 24 after a declining trend in coronavirus cases was observed.
Under the directives, time limit on businesses had been lifted and the condition of 50pc attendance at workplaces removed. Schools were asked to function five days a week and permission to hold indoor wedding ceremonies and opening of cinemas and shrines was granted with effect from March 15. Decision to allow indoor dining depended on the outcome of a review meeting that was scheduled for March 10.
The Election Commission of Pakistan was given a go-ahead to hold local bodies and cantonment board elections by the end of May or early June.
The NCOC session was presided over by Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar on Wednesday which reviewed the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) already issued and valid till March 15.
Later at a joint press conference, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan and Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said a number of relaxations had been withdrawn.
Mr Mahmood said the meeting discussed the prevailing pandemic situation in the country.
“It was decided that in Sindh and Balochistan, the situation was better due to which 50pc students will be allowed to attend schools per day. In the 10 cities of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir and Islamabad, spring vacations will start from March 15 and educational institutions will remain closed for two weeks till March 28 in view of the rising Covid-19 cases,” he said.
The minister said the cities where the new directives would be applicable were Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Lahore, Gujrat, Multan, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Islamabad, Muzaffarabad and Peshawar. However, he said final examinations, which were under way or expected to take place later this month, including those of O and A levels, would go ahead as per schedule.
He said in the remaining parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, half of the students would keep attending classes daily.
He said the provincial governments would keep reviewing the situation and, if it worsened, closure of schools would be necessary.
“The situation will be constantly reviewed,” the minister said, adding that the education sector had a direct effect on the spread of the virus therefore it was necessary to take such decisions.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Faisal Sultan said hospitals were being burdened due to increase in cases.
“We have decided to continue enforcing SOPs and imposing smart lockdowns and micro smart lockdowns on the basis of disease prevalence/hotspots while implementation of the 50pc work from home policy will be at the discretion of the 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, however it will be only for less essential services. 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,” he said.
“However, outdoor dining/take away will continue to remain open as per previous practice. Outdoor gatherings will remain limited to a maximum of 300 individuals with strict enforcement of Covid-19 SOPs. Review of all enforced NPIs will be carried out on April 12,” he added.
Dr Sultan said the federating units were at liberty to impose stricter NPIs in selected cities/districts keeping in view the local disease trend/spread. He also said vaccination of senior citizens had started across the country.
Meanwhile, the NCOC data showed that 1,786 people had contracted the virus and 43 lost their lives in a single day as the number of active cases was recorded at 16,699.
15m people infected in Pakistan
IPSOS, a market research and consulting firm, has claimed that as many as 15 million people in Pakistan have been infected by the deadly Covid-19 virus.
The firm conducts a study every month and around 1,000 people across the country are interviewed through phone calls.
In the latest study, three questions were asked from each participant: if he/she had tested positive; not tested positive and whether they had developed symptoms of Covid-19.
The data showed that 4pc of the participants [which means estimated 5.2 million people considering the population] got themselves tested for the infection and were found positive. Around 7pc participants [9.2 million of the population] claimed that they had experienced symptoms but did not get tested.
On the basis of the study it has been claimed that around 15 million of the population has been infected by the virus.
An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting not to be named, said a survey conducted with the support of the National Institute of Health also showed similar results as antibodies had developed in over 10pc of the people.
“However we do not agree that 5.2 million people had tested positive as every lab has to report the positive case to the federal health ministry. According to our data, around 600,000 people have been found infected in Pakistan,” he said.
Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani said the decisions taken by the NCOC on the closure of educational institutions for 15 days was in view of the increase in coronavirus patients in seven cities of Punjab and Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Mr Ghani said: “No educational institutions are being closed in Sindh and Balochistan. Following consultation with the steering committee of the Sindh Education Department, we had already allowed 50pc student attendance in our educational institutions from March 1, and we are working on it while taking care of all SOPs,” he said.
“Monitoring has also been tightened. So far 141 schools and four colleges in Sindh have been closed for a few days after emergence of coronavirus patients,” he said, adding that if such a situation arises in more educational institutions, we will take action or close the institution for 15 days.”
Shazia Hasan in Karachi also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2021