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The decision is in, and the word is out: educational institutes in Pakistan will be reopening from the 15th of September. Shafqat Mahmood, Federal Minister for Education, has announced that the reopening will be done in phases, with the universities, colleges, and higher classes resuming first. The decision has garnered a mixture of reactions from the public – while some take a sigh of relief, others are anxious about the possible outcomes of this resumption which includes, at worst, another lockdown in Pakistan.
The Re-opening of Institutes
Let’s view the situation a little more realistically. Institutes will re-open and throughout the first two weeks, the standard operating procedures, more commonly referred to as SOPs, will be followed with unmatched zeal and enthusiasm. Wearing a face mask will be made mandatory for entrance, and there will be a bottle of sanitizer at every nook and corner. Some of the more high-end institutes will also ensure that the body temperature of every student is checked before they enter.
However, as the weeks will pass, the corona fear will begin to subside. Students who haven’t met their friends for months will then be witnessed hugging, talking, playing together, and not paying heed to the social distancing rules. The phenomenon will be especially prevalent in younger kids, those who have yet to come to terms with the gravity of the situation. The result will be inevitable – another wave of COVID-19.
Lockdown in November?
The world has already witnessed the extent of the COVID-19 spread after the re-opening of institutes in the United States of America. Weeks after the institutes reopened in July, a rapid spread of the virus was witnessed in a study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association, with 97,000 cases reported in just the last two weeks of July. One should not forget that these statistics come from a country that ranks number 1 on the Global Health Security Index and is far better equipped to deal with the pandemic than Pakistan.
The question that arises then is how will we cope up if the re-opening of institutes leads to a further spread of the virus? The answer is evident: another lockdown. Yes, as unappealing as it may sound, the only way out for Pakistan in case of another surge will be the imposition of a lockdown in the country once again. The entire situation makes me foresee yet another spell of being confined to our homes. Is yet another lockdown possible? Yes, considerably high. Is it inevitable? No, not really.
The Second Phases of Lockdown
In case of yet another rise in the number of cases, Pakistan will not be the only country that will have opted for a second term of the lockdown. The world has previously witnessed similar cases, for example, China’s specially administered region of Hong Kong. By the end of January, the region had closed all its schools due to the rapid spread of the virus, and by the last week of May, it seemed as if they had won the war against the deadly pandemic and hence the decision to re-open schools was made. However, the authorities had to cut the school year short and close the institutes yet again as the city was exposed to a third wave of the virus outbreak.
A similar scenario came to light in the Midwest and South of the United States; schools opened in August, as a result of which the virus was transmitted to many children. As the number of positive cases began to increase, some schools were forced to temporarily shut down yet again. If developed countries with ample health care facilities had to face such circumstances due to the re-opening of institutes, one could only wonder what a developing country like ours would go through in case another wave of the virus spread.
Preventing the November Lockdown
The method to preventing another surge in COVID-19 cases and another lockdown in Pakistan should be clear to anyone who has been even slightly in touch with what’s happening around the world. The educational institutes must ensure full compliance with the standard operating procedures for as long as they intend to remain open. Although the institutes are responsible for the safety of the students, the students are also equally responsible for ensuring that they follow the prescribed social distancing rules.
For the time being, it is advised that students focus solely on their academic work and put recreational activities on hold until the situation settles down. The duty to follow social distancing guidelines is one’s collective responsibility, and that seems to be the only way to prevent another impending lockdown.
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