Tens of thousands of students in Pakistan returned to educational institutions on Tuesday after a six-month break, as the country’s new coronavirus caseload continues to decline.
Universities and colleges reopened and school classes for the ninth and 10th grade restarted in the first phase of a three-stage plan announced by the the government earlier this month.
School classes for younger pupils were set to resume by the end of September, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said.
A sharp decline in new COVID-19 infections since July has encouraged authorities to reopen educational institutions under strict guidelines for teachers and students, including the wearing of face masks.
“It was a difficult decision but we have to take it sooner or later,” said Saeed Ghani, Education Minister in the worst-hit southern province of Sindh.
Student unions in the conflict-ridden provinces of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan welcomed the resumption of in-person learning, as many students had not been able to join online classes due to a lack of internet access.
Pakistan had ordered schools to close in February, following the lead of other countries in the region, after the first COVID-19 infections were reported.
The country has reported more than 300,000 COVID-19 infections and more than 6,000 related deaths.
More than 95 per cent of patients have recovered.
The ratio of new infections among those tested recently declined to 2 per cent, according to health authorities.
The minister said the government would order schools to close again if infections spread once more.