EDITORIAL: The government’s decision to reopen schools five days a week across the country from 1 March 2021 is pretty much in keeping with the decision of the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) to resume full-time commercial activity with the new month in light of declining Covid-19 cases. Schools were given the green light to go full time last month, except in Lahore, Karachi, Hyderabad and Peshawar, because of the high positivity ratio in and around those cities, but now normalcy seems to be returning and the government clearly feels the time is right to get pupils to resume regular classes all over the country.
The forward march is necessary but nobody should need to be reminded that this decision is fraught with risk just because of the fact that the virus has not gone away, only its spread has been somewhat contained, and new variants are cropping up all the time all over the world. And it’s still not known if all the vaccines that have caused so much optimism, especially in rich countries that can afford and arrange them right away, can keep up with all the new strains. So the need for everybody to take the greatest possible care cannot possibly be emphasised enough.
Government officials have done the right thing by stressing the need to follow social safety protocols all the time, but considering that these statements are not being taken too seriously by most people, a lot more clearly needs to be done. There have been far too many reported cases of people blatantly refusing to wear masks or maintain minimum distance in public; sometimes even leading to unpleasant scuffles to the point that the police had to be involved. Such attitude will just not do if we are to reopen successfully, especially with Ramazan and the shopping season of Eid not very far away. It was, after all, around Eid last year that public irresponsibility of the most shocking order led to a very rapid spread of the virus not long after its first wave came to Pakistan. Sadly, going by the behaviour of much of the public, it doesn’t seem as if we have learned too many lessons from the last mistake.
So far the lasting damage that forced closure of schools as a result of the pandemic hasn’t quite got the attention it deserves. Perhaps it’s only natural to overlook such things in the rush to protect lives as well as the economy. Yet while everything, including depressed production, wages and output, will recover sooner rather than later, the way millions of people have been deprived of basic education across the world could well result in a lost generation for most, if not all, countries. In poor countries like Pakistan pulling children out of schools means a sudden rise in poverty, child labour, even child abuse, along with a lot of other problems like hundreds of thousands of children losing the prospect of proper degrees, vocational training and decent earnings.
That is why the government’s decision to reopen all schools all week long must be agreed with in principle. But it must also launch a massive, sustained campaign designed specifically to press home the point that this relaxation comes only with the condition that all necessary Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) shall be adhered to. That last thing anybody needs is children bringing the virus home to their parents and grandparents to the point that everything has to be shut down all over again. Not only would that risk seriously damaging the education and future employment prospects of today’s students, it could also deliver the kiss of death to the economy. Last time Pakistan lifted restrictions in this manner the country was able to snap out of the lockdown and resume its merry ways as if by some miracle because much of the rest of the world continued to struggle with the virus and its prohibitions. Unless we pull off the same miracle another time, much of what has been achieved could be lost. Hopefully, administrations of all schools all over the country, as well as parents who send their children there, will take the most serious care when it comes to following all SOPs. Anything less would amount to gambling with our future, especially that of our children.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021