ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Wednesday announced to close down schools in several cities from March 15 as well as withdrawing various other decisions made two weeks ago citing a spike in coronavirus cases in the country.

Speaking at a presser, Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood along with special assistant to the prime minister on national health services Dr Faisal Sultan, after a meeting of National Command and Operations (NCOC), said that educational institutes would be closed in Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Sialkot and other cities in Punjab from Monday for two weeks.

“All educational institutions in Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Lahore, Gujrat, Multan, Rawalpindi and Sialkot will remain closed from March 15 till 28,” he said, adding the closure would be counted as a spring break.

In Islamabad as well, schools and other educational institutions will be closed from Monday on account of a spring break and be reopened on March 28. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the same measures will be taken for Peshawar’s educational institutions.

He said the Covid-19 situation in Sindh and Balochistan was pretty much normal. As per the decisions taken during the meeting only 50 percent of students will be allowed in schools in Sindh and Balochistan and they will observe all standard operating procedures (SOPs) including social distancing and wearing masks.

He added that in parts of Punjab and KP, only 50 percent of attendance in educational institutions would be allowed, while in some cities, strict measures would be taken.

“Owing to a rise in positivity ratios in Peshawar, educational institutions and schools will remain closed from Monday, March 15 till March 28,” he said.

“In other districts and cities [of KP], attendance will be 50 percent subject to the ongoing situation,” he said, adding that provincial governments would hold a “constant review” of the situation and would have the right to order the closure of schools, educational institutions and other places keeping in mind the coronavirus situation.

The education minister, however, clarified that O Levels, A Levels and other exams would be held as per schedule in Pakistan.

“These exams being conducted by schools will not be applicable on these exams,” he said, recalling that exams for grades 10, 11 and 12 would be held that year in May and June. He said that intermediate and matriculations exams across the country would be held as per given timeframe.

Dr Sultan said that a decision had also been taken to extend a ban on indoor activities and re-impose the 50 percent work-from-home policy.

The implementation of the work from home policy has been left to the discretion of the provinces, but will go into effect in Islamabad immediately. He said the situation would be further reviewed on 12th of next month.

Dr Sultan said the vaccination process of senior citizens of 60 year age and above had been started and such citizens could get vaccination sending their CNIC numbers to 1166.

Earlier, the NCOC, which had met with Planning Minister Asad Umar in the chair, was given a comprehensive update and review about the guidelines issued for coronavirus prevention valid till March 15.

The NCOC took following decisions: (i) Strict compliance with mask-wearing will continue across the board. (ii) Smart lockdowns/micro smart lockdowns will continue to be imposed based on disease prevalence/hotspots. (iii) 50 percent work from home policy will be implemented at the discretion of federating units. However, it will be enforced in Islamabad with immediate effect. (iv) The time limit of 10:00pm on all commercial activities will be re-enforced with immediate effect, less essential services. (v) Amusement parks across the country will be closed at 6:00pm. (vi) The earlier decision of allowing indoor weddings, indoor dining and the opening of cinemas and shrines with effect from 15th March 21 has been withdrawn. However, outdoor dining/take away will continue to remain open as per previous practice. (vii) Outdoor gatherings will continue to remain limited to a maximum of 300 individuals with strict enforcement of COVID-19 SOPs. (viii) A review of all enforced SOPs will be carried out on April 12, 2021.

The above-mentioned decisions regarding SOPs are base-line decisions. Federating units are at liberty to impose stricter NPIs in selected cities/districts keeping in view the local disease trend/spread.