Pakistan Monday announced that all schools across the country will reopen from Sept. 15, ending a six-month closure propelled by the coronavirus pandemic.
Announcing the decision after a meeting of provincial education ministers in the capital Islamabad, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said that some 300,000 schools, colleges and universities would reopen in phases starting from Sept. 15, in an attempt to avoid another wave of the virus.
In the first phases, Mahmood said all higher learning institutions across the country would reopen from Sept. 15, whereas students in grades 9 to 12 will also be returning to school on the same day.
"If all goes well,” he added, students in grades 6 to 8 will return to school on Sept. 23, while kindergarten to grade 5e students will be back to school on Sept. 30.
The decision will also apply to over 30,000 religious seminaries across the country.
"All schools will have to strictly follow the SOPs (standard operating procedures). Strict disciplinary action will be taken against violators,” Mahmood warned.
Masks, which have become a rare sight throughout the country following a sharp decline in the number of coronavirus cases over the past few months, will be mandatory for all teachers and students.
Faisal Sultan, the prime minister’s health adviser, who effectively acts as health minister, said normal class sizes would be reduced by half in order to contain the chances of another outbreak.
The latest surveys show the number of parents opposing the reopening of schools has declined from 73% to only 37% in the last two months.
Pakistan is among a handful of countries to have witnessed a dramatic drop in coronavirus cases, from nearly 7,000 to around a mere 300 daily cases over the past few months, with daily fatalities from the coronavirus hovering in the single digits each day.
The country has so far recorded 298,903 cases, of which 286,010 have recovered, according to Health Ministry data. The number of fatalities from COVID-19 stands at 6,345.
The government is currently following a "mini smart lockdown" strategy.
Instead of closing entire streets or shopping centers, only houses or workplaces where infections are reported will be sealed.