‘Reopening schools may lead to second, third waves of coronavirus’


KARACHI: Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho has warned against the reopening of schools till the coronavirus pandemic is, stating that children in particular cannot be stopped from socialising or following guidelines.

“I believe that primary and middle schools should not be opened until COVID-19 is over. Small children cannot maintain social distancing, they shake hands and hug each other frequently and cannot follow the SOPs. We have around 50 students in small classrooms and it is difficult to make sitting arrangements for them as per the SOPs. If small children are allowed to go to schools, they would spread the virus further and carry it to their homes, causing the second and third waves,” she told The News.

Experts in the country have already warned about a second wave of the virus in the country during November and December, which is considered as the flu season. Experts have asked people to take the pandemic seriously as a second or a third wave could prove to be more lethal than the first one.

Maintaining that getting an education was every child’s right, Pechuho said the health department could only make recommendations on advice from experts. However, it was in the interest of the parents and the society that younger children were educated at home through online classes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“As far as schools for senior classes and colleges are concerned, they can be opened by taking all the precautionary measures. Students and teachers must follow all the SOPs, wear masks, practice social distancing and wash and sanitise hands regularly so as prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection.”

She added that a large number of people in Sindh, including Karachi, had not yet contracted the coronavirus. The minister added that even those who had the infection lacked COVID-19 antibodies in their blood.

“At the moment, not a very large portion of our society has contracted the coronavirus infection. A very large segment of society has not yet been exposed to the virus. Some sero-prevalence studies have revealed that even those who tested positive for COVID-19 through the PCR test had not developed antibodies in their blood. This means that instead of waiting for the so-called herd immunity, we should follow the SOPs and wait for vaccine development.”

Urging the public to follow guidelines during the coming month of Muharram, the provincial health minister said many people in Pakistan believed that COVID-19 was over, which resulted in normalisation of activities during Eid-ul-Adha.

“Ignoring precautionary measures could lead to disastrous circumstances for the people in the coming weeks and months,” she warned.

‘Absentee doctors’

Speaking about the termination of over 1,700 absentee doctors and issuance of show-cause notices to over 1,200 doctors who were on leave, the health minister said more doctors and employees of the health department would be terminated if they remained absent from their duties. She added that if the absentee doctors had received salaries, they would be asked to return the money to the government.

“Action is underway against all the absconding employees of the health department, including doctors, paramedics and other staff. If somebody has also received salaries while remaining absent from the service, they would be asked to return the amount or face legal action.”


Responding to a query about Karachi’s three major hospitals – the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD), Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) and the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD) which were still under the provincial government since the federal government had made no progress to take them over, the minister said the hospitals were being run by the provincial health department as the Centre had not made any progress in taking them over despite allocating funds in the federal budget.

“Currently, these hospitals are being run by us as we too have allocated funds in the provincial budget. The federal government has not shown any interest in taking them over despite allocating funds in the federal budget and issuance of a couple of notifications. Several matters need to be settled in this case,” she said, adding that a review petition filed by Sindh in the Supreme Court of Pakistan was also pending.

Dr Faisal Sultan

Speaking about the appointment of a new special assistant to the prime minister on health, she said that although Dr Faisal Sultan was a competent health expert, he was not a politician. She added that without political backing and support, it was very hard for technocrats to work independently in the country.

“Former SAPM Dr Zafar Mirza was also a nice competent person, but without political backing, nobody can work efficiently in the government set-up. Political backing is a must. Dr Faisal Sultan is a thorough professional, but without a political background, experience and support, it is very hard to perform in the governments.”

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