With the resumption of educational activities across Pakistan, the sealing of scores of schools for violation of COVID-19-related standard operating procedures (SOPs) and detection of positive cases in teachers and students present a strong case of revisiting the decision to the government functionaries. When the federal government and provinces sat together to decide about the reopening of schools earlier in the first week of September, COVID-19 cases had shown a remarkable decline in positive cases, but that was not a point to declare victory on the virus. But it is equally true that the coronavirus fear is over as most of the country is back to normal as news related to lockdown has disappeared. Also, restaurants, wedding banquets, theaters and shopping malls have returned to the pre-coronavirus days. Pakistan, despite having a weak healthcare system, did better from the developed world as the country registered 300,000 plus positive cases and 6,000 plus deaths resulting from the virus related complications. These factors encouraged the government to reopen classrooms but only to see resurgence of the virus.
Sindh is again the first province to announce the closure of schools within days of the resumption of classroom activities. Reacting to the resistance from Sindh, Federal Educa­tion Minister Shafqat Mahmood has warned against any closure of the schools, saying that the government has no changed the schedule for the resumption of schools as decided after a flurry of meetings at inter provincial meeting of education ministers. Ministers will meet again tomorrow to discuss the situation. The federal minister tweeted: “… that 6 months closure deeply affected the students. Decision to open was taken with great care. Any hasty decision to close will destroy education”. The minister is factually right but he needs to examine the sealing of schools case to case. For example, a Balochistan university was closed when authorities detected 67 cases there. In Punjab’s Muzaffargarh district alone, 12 private and government-run schools were also closed following the violations of SOPs.
The government can stick to the decision of resumption of classes only if it puts in lots of sources to ensure the implementation of SOPs in schools. Pakistan’s gains in fighting against the virus can be attributed only to vigilant enforcement of SOPs. Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan’s statement the “slight increase” should not be a case of worry cannot be defended. He should look at numbers, not just perception.