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Pakistani schools welcome students again amid concerns

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Educational institutions in Pakistan on Tuesday welcomed the first group of students in a gradual reopening after a six-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students in secondary and upper grades returned to school as part of the phased plan to resume educational activities. In the next phase, lower secondary school students will return from September 23, while primary classes will resume from September 30.

Students attend classes while respecting safety and health protocols on the first day of school at a secondary school in Karachi, Pakistan, September 15, 2020. The Pakistani school reopens classes after more than six months of closure forced due to the Covid-19 pandemic (Anadolu Agency / Getty / Kyodo)

Educational institutions were closed on March 13 at the start of the epidemic for three weeks initially. However, the shutdown has been extended due to the worsening pandemic situation.

The resumption of classes comes amid fears of a second wave of a pandemic and concerns over compliance with precautionary measures by students, especially younger ones.

Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter to reassure worried parents that the government would keep them safe.

“It is our priority and our collective responsibility to ensure that every child can safely go to school to learn. We have worked to ensure that school operations are aligned with public health safety rules on # COVID19, “Khan tweeted.

The government released a 27-page document containing guidelines for returning students. Measures include social distancing, hand washing, face covers and better ventilation.

The guidelines also call for screening, testing and continuous monitoring in educational institutions. Students and their parents have also been asked to self-screen and stay home if they feel sick or have symptoms.

On the first day, good attendance was noted, with most students observing safety protocols and schools screening their temperature.

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood visited schools in Islamabad to monitor compliance with security measures. In a video message, he urged everyone’s cooperation to keep students safe and warned that failure to follow protocols could lead to a resurgence of the disease.

Pakistan has so far recorded 302,424 cases of COVID-19, with 6,389 deaths.

But the pandemic situation has improved, with the number of new daily cases falling below 1,000 since the start of the month and generally below 500 in the past fifteen weeks. A total of 404 new cases were reported on Monday.

The number of active cases in the country has fallen below 6,000.

Faisal Sultan, the prime minister’s special assistant for health, said last week that trends were being closely watched before making this all-important decision to reopen schools.

“Given the very low positivity rates, we are convinced that schools can be opened in stages,” he argued.

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