Closure of schools: Shafqat Mehmood chairs NCOC meeting

Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood.

ISLAMABAD: Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood is chairing an important meeting of education and health ministers at the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) during which a decision would be taken regarding the closure of schools due to the deteriorating COVID-19 situation.

According to the NCOC data, the number of COVID-19 active cases has more than doubled in Pakistan in the last three weeks while the positivity ratio has remained above 8% during the last few days.

Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani, however, has said that schools should remain open in cities where the pandemic is under control.

While talking to Geo Pakistan, he said that the positivity ratio in Sindh educational institutes is 2.8% but the final decision about schools will depend on the data shared by the NCOC.

On Sunday, Shafqat Mehmood had announced that all the education and health ministers would meet on March 24 at the NCOC to mull the pandemic situation and decide about the reopening or further closure of educational institutions.

Taking to his Twitter account, the federal minister had reminded the masses that the third wave of the coronavirus is serious, therefore, it requires careful review.

“All education/health ministers will meet Wednesday, March 24, at the NCOC to take a decision regarding opening or further closure of educational institutions,” the minister wrote.

“The health of students, teachers, [and staff is of] primary consideration.”

NCOC wary of COVID-19 spread in schools

In a separate statement on Monday, Mehmood said that he was not in favour of shutting down educational institutes but the NCOC believed that there’s a high risk of coronavirus in schools.

“50 million children are linked with education and if someone got infected, the disease would spread,” he said.

It is pertinent to note that schools, colleges and universities were allowed to resume regular classes from March 1 but the Sindh government did not follow suit saying the situation has not improved.

On March 10, the federal government had announced a two-week Spring Break in Islamabad, Peshawar and seven Punjab cities where the positivity was high and imposed restrictions to control the spread.

The health officials have warned that the UK variant, which has wreaked havoc in Punjab and the federal capital, spreads faster and is more deadly.

More restrictions imposed

On Monday, the NCOC decided to implement high impact interventions in cities with over 8% positivity ratio during the rising third wave of the pandemic till April 11.

The forum expressed grave concern over the current COVID-19 situation in the country and unanimously agreed for implementation of the following high impact interventions in cities and districts with a positivity ratio greater than 8% (based on a three-day rolling average) to contain the disease spread.

The NCOC agreed to implement broader lockdowns with stringent enforcement protocols based on risk assessment.

However, no mobility would be allowed in the restricted area except emergencies, it added.

The forum also agreed on the closure of all types of indoor dining. However, outdoor dining was permitted till 10pm along with takeaways.

It also decided to implement the closure of all commercial activities (less essential services) by 8pm whereas two safe days per week would be observed (no commercial or business centre to operate on these days).

The forum had also banned all sorts of indoor gatherings due to its super spreader nature in increasing disease prevalence.

Moreover, the gatherings with an upper limit of 300 persons were allowed with strict adherence of COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“However, all types of indoor gatherings involving cultural, musical and religious or miscellaneous event will be banned,” it said.

It underscored that no indoor functions would be allowed.

The forum also put complete closure of amusement parks, however, walking and jogging tracks would remain open with strict adherence of SOPs.

In order to contain disease spread, the officials also decided to limit intercity public transport and allowed it to operate at 50% of its available capacity.

However, rail service was allowed to operate at 70% of its capacity to contain disease transmission within the districts amid the third wave of the contagion.

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