ISLAMABAD – Millions of children in Pakistan returned to learning in schools and universities Tuesday after a six-month-long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The largest return to school in the world comes as daily infections and deaths from the outbreak in the country of 220 million have steadily declined. Officials reported around 400 new cases and six deaths in the last 24 hours.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government had closed more than 300,000 educational institutions in mid-March as part of a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.
Authorities have since gradually lifted all curbs on businesses across Pakistan and opened public places, including gyms, tourist destinations and restaurants, but schools remained closed.
The restriction confined more than 50 million school and university-going Pakistanis to their homes in the South Asian country where officials estimate nearly 23 million children already have no access to education.
“Let us welcome our children and students on the first day of opening of educational institutions,” tweeted Faisal Sultan, a special assistant to the prime minister on national health services.
“Please don’t forget basic protective steps. Masks, reduced density in classes, hand hygiene. Parents, school administrators, teachers, students — all together,” Sultan cautioned.
Officials have recorded more than 302,000 cases, including close to 6,400 deaths, while 96% of the patients have recovered.
Pakistan’s countermeasures and supply of emergency assistance to millions of poverty-stricken families directly affected by ensuring economic lockdowns have been widely lauded.
An Asian Development Bank report released Tuesday praised Pakistan for achieving “notable success in containing the dual health and economic challenge” presented by the infection.
The government’s rapid mobilization of a $7 billion relief package comprising emergency financial support to daily wage earners, cash transfers to low-income families, accelerated procurement of wheat, support for health and food supplies and financial support for small and media enterprises helped shield the poor and most vulnerable during the pandemic, the report said.
“As the curve flattens and business activity resumes, the economy is showing signs of resilience and recovery, said ADB country director Xiaohong Yang.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) last week included Pakistan among seven countries that he said the world can learn from about how to fight future pandemics.
“Pakistan deployed the infrastructure built up over many years for polio to combat COVID-19. Community health workers who have been trained to go door-to-door vaccinating children for polio have been utilized for surveillance, contact tracing and care,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Source: Voice of America