Pakistan partially reopens schools as lowest COVID-19 cases reported since March

A worker checks the body temperature of students upon their arrival at a school, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, June 7, 2021. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: Millions of students returned to schools on Monday as the Pakistan government partially reopened educational institutions amid strict compliance with health guidelines. The educational activity has been resumed following the continuous decline in coronavirus cases.

The positivity rate in the country has dropped to 3.1 per cent. Pakistan recorded 1,490 new infections and 58 fatalities over the past 24 hours. This is the lowest daily count since March 8 when the country reported 1,353 infections.

Phased reopening

Most of the educational institutes in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces reopened on Monday while Sindh has opened schools for classes nine and above. However, only 50 per cent of the total students are allowed to attend classes on a given day and no student will attend school for two consecutive days.

Educational and health officials have also warned of strict action against schools found violating the COVID-19 measures.

Last week, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) had allowed phased reopening of educational institutions from June 7 in districts where the positivity rate was less than five per cent subject to strict compliance with COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs). The government has also announced that examinations of grades 10 and 12 would be held from June 23 to July 29.

Vaccination mandatory for teachers

COVID-19 vaccinations are now mandatory for educational staff in order to ensure the safe continuation of the education sector, according to health officials. Pakistan has opened walk-in vaccination facility for all teachers and school staff above 18 years of age. Nearly 450,000 teaching staff have been vaccinated across the country since last week, according to official reports.

Students and parents happy

Both parents and children said they were happy to be back at school, and agreed to comply with mandatory temperature checks and the use of masks as part of safety measures. “I am so excited to finally go back to school and attend classes with all my friends and not alone at home on the laptop,” said Haris Farhan, a 9-year-old student in Islamabad. “I will wear a mask and bring my own sanitizer too. But I don’t wish to return to distance learning again,” he said.

Schools have mostly remained shut in Pakistan since the outbreak of the pandemic last year. Many classes moved online but the pandemic also revealed the great digital divide for those children lacking Internet access.

COVID-19 update

With 1,490 new cases, the total number of infections in the country reached 933,630, with 864,931 recoveries. More than 8.2 million vaccine doses have been administered as of June 7. Around 2.3 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. At least 255,006 people received their COVID-19 jabs in the past 24 hours, as per official stats.