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Thursday Sep 24 2020
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Children in a limbo as Sindh ministers issue conflicting comments on reopening of schools

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho (R) said the rate of positive coronavirus cases in the province has recently doubled but Education Minister Saeed Ghani (L) explained that while the infections "have reduced significantly", the number of tests was bumped up. Geo.tv/Files

KARACHI: School-going children on Thursday found themselves stuck in a limbo as Sindh's health and education ministers issued conflicting comments on the reopening of educational institutes, with one saying there was a rise in the coronavirus cases and other refuting the former's remarks.

The rate of positive coronavirus cases in the province has recently doubled, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho had said earlier today, warning against reopening schools, despite federal planning minister, Asad Umar, boasting a "stable" positivity ratio and "highest ever" number of tests carried out a day prior.

Speaking to Geo News, Dr Pechuho said the coronavirus positivity rate in the province "has increased from 1.5% to 3%" and that it was unwise to reopen schools in the current situation.

The health minister's statement is important in the backdrop of the planned reopening from September 28 of the province's middle schools, which were earlier scheduled to resume classes from Sept 21.

Second wave of coronavirus 'predicted'

The government of Sindh had decided to postpone the reopening amid fears of a virus resurgence. Classes from six to eight had resumed all over the country from Sept 23 after approval from the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC).

"A second wave of coronavirus has been predicted in the current situation," Dr Azra Pechuho said, adding that she had reservations about reopening of the educational institutes.

"Do not rush to open primary schools. Primary schools must be given at least one to one-and-a-half month to reopen," the Sindh health minister warned.

"It would be right to send children to school only when the situation [related to the coronavirus pandemic] is clear," she added.

Infections 'did not increase'

However, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani fuelled confusion over the matter, saying the "coronavirus [cases] have reduced significantly in Sindh" and that the number of tests was increased, not the infections.

"All educational institutions will reopen on Sept 28," Ghani said, adding that there was no problem in reopening the schools in Sindh.

"Education has suffered the most during the coronavirus crisis," he added, asking the health department "inform" him if it had any concerns.

Sentinel testing 'to identify early trends'

On the other hand, PTI's Umar, the federal planning and development minister, said earlier in the day that a "significant build-up in COVID testing [has been] done to carry out sentinel testing at educational institutions in order to identify early trends, if any".

"42,299 tests carried out yesterday which is by far the highest ever. Positivity ratio continues to be stable below 2%," he said on Twitter.

Most positive cases from Karachi

Nevertheless, a report issued by the Sindh Health and Population Welfare Department indicated that at least 185 people associated with educational institutions across the province have contracted the deadly coronavirus.

Some 35,339 people at educational institutions were tested, the health department noted, adding that the test reports of 25,000 individuals in universities, colleges, and high schools turned out negative.

Most of the positive cases across Sindh's 29 districts were from Karachi, it added.

Outbreak in schools would be 'a bigger loss'

In a press conference around midday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said the provincial government "cannot reopen schools" until the implementation of precautionary measures was ensured since the standard operating procedures were not being followed.

"I want to make it clear to parents, teachers, and everyone else that, apart from the fact that people lost their loved ones, the closure of schools is the biggest setback of the virus.

"We are vigilantly observing the situation to reopen schools as soon as we can. However, a bigger loss than this would be the outbreak of virus in our schools," Shah warned.

Despite children being less likely to contract the coronavirus, "we cannot roll our eyes away from the fact that they still are the potential carriers," he explained.

Review on Sept 28

The chief minister highlighted that the Sindh Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) distributed more than 500,000 face masks in schools and that his government was "trying to facilitate the school administrations as much as we can and also the citizens".

Stressing on the usage of face masks, the minister said heeding this particular precautionary measure has contributed a lot to the curtailment of the disease. "A few citizens still believe in the misconception that the virus is long gone," he added.

Shah further stressed that while Sindh government was closely monitoring the situation, it would review its prior decision with its federal counterpart on Sept 28.

"We should not be complacent about the virus," he said. "We still do not have the medication or the vaccine for the contagion."