ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan is closing its schools and postponing exams on Thursday to try to curb new coronavirus infections and an increasing number of people in hospital with COVID-19.
Students, including those at colleges as well as at private schools, are expected to continue classes through distance learning until December 24, when the school is scheduled for winter break through January 11.
“All efforts will be made to ensure that education continues from home,” Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Monday, announcing the closure of schools, adding that “if the situation improves” schools will reopen on January 11.
Pakistan reported 3,306 new cases as of Wednesday, and 40 deaths from the pandemic, with 2,485 patients currently hospitalized, according to officials. So far, 386,198 cases have been recorded in the country, and 7,843 deaths.
The decision to close schools, officials said, was based on increasing the rate of positive testing results in the country. The rate of people testing positive in June was as high as 23%, but fell to a low of 1.7% in September. Since then it started increasing again, hitting 7.41% this week.
More than 19% of the new cases were from educational institutions, where the rate of positive outcomes nearly doubled in one week to reach 3.3%, officials said on Monday.
The South Asian country has ruled out an extensive lockdown, opting to close non-essential public gatherings in a bid to keep the economy afloat through the pandemic.
“We don’t know what winter will be like, so there is a little bit of concern at the moment because our cases have been increasing quite fast lately,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said at an event organized by the World Economic Forum on Wednesday. .
“We will only lock up the non-essential, in other words public meetings and so on where our economy is not hurt.”
Pakistan closed educational institutions between March and September to combat the spread of the virus. State television and radio stations are used to broadcast lessons for students at home to students in public schools.
Reporting by Umar Farooq, Editing by William Maclean
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