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February 28, 2020

Confusion at KU after notification of varsities’ closure arrives late


February 28, 2020

Since it emerged that the 22-year-old student of the University of Karachi (KU), who was diagnosed with coronavirus on Wednesday at a private hospital in Karachi, had attended his regular classes on February 25 at the KU’s international relations (IR) department, the students, teachers and non-teaching staff of the varsity have been in a state of panic.

On Wednesday, when officials of the Sindh health department came to know that the patient was a student of KU, they instantly contacted the varsity administration and instructed the officials concerned to identify the students who had attended classes with the affected student.

Taking precautionary measures on Thursday to isolate the class fellows of the affected student and keep other students safe, the KU registrar, through an official letter, instructed the head of the IR department to keep its evening classes suspended until further orders. As some of the teachers, staffers and students received the notification through WhatsApp, they rushed to their homes.

Some of the classmates of the affected student scooted off on their bikes to various hospitals for laboratory tests. They were told that they must stay at homes in separate rooms or a place where other family members had minimum interaction with them until they received their final lab reports. At present, around 30,000 students are studying in the evening and morning programmes of KU while the number of teachers and non-teaching staffers crosses four figures. A large number of outstation and foreign students, mostly from Africa, are also studying at the varsity.

Panic on campus

On Wednesday night, when different television channels aired the news that coronavirus had reached Pakistan as its first case in the country had been detected in Karachi.

To avoid the further spread of the disease in the city, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani announced on Twitter that all the public and private schools would be closed from Thursday to Friday across the province. However, a majority of the private school owners could not know about it and opened the schools on Thursday morning. However, as soon as they learnt about the government’s decision, they closed the schools and informed the parents about it.

Later on Thursday, the government of Sindh announced that all the educational institutes, including varsities, colleges, and schools of both the private and public sectors, would remain closed till March 2.

Ghani, however, did not mention whether varsities would remain opened or closed because the institutes of higher education do not come under the jurisdiction of the provincial education minister.

The provincial universities and boards department, which deals with public and private varsities in Sindh and functions under the supervision of the chief minister, issued a notification on Thursday, February 27, stating that all the varsities in the province would remain closed on February 27 and 28.

Teachers’ versions

As the notification about the closure of varsities on Thursday was issued on the same day, it created confusion. “When the notification was received by the varsities, the teachers had already started classes in various varsities,” said a KU teacher.

The teachers of the department where the affected student was enrolled said they had started their classes on Thursday and academic activities were in progress as usual when suddenly they all came to know about the notification of the universities and boards department. As the KU administration also put the notice on display, chaos was observed at the varsity as some departments continued with the classes and others stopped academic activities.

A senior faculty member of the IR department said the teachers were informed in the morning that they had to keep that particular room closed in which the affected student attended classes. The senior teacher added that classes for the morning shift students were held as usual.

He remarked that some media reports deliberately tried to create panic with wrong facts and explained that it was wrong information that the affected student had attended his regular classes for three days in the varsity.

The patient is a student of the second semester of the masters programme at the IR department. His attendance record shows that in recent days, he had attended his classes only on February 25. “When the affected student came to the varsity, he was not feeling well, thus he didn’t attend all his classes in the department. He was there just for a few hours.”

Another teacher who teaches at the department on a contractual basis said all the classmates of the affected student were healthy and none of them had claimed to have symptoms of coronavirus. However, the varsity administration, officials of the health department, and even research institutes of the varsity had assured the teacher that they would make sure the department was properly cleaned before the academic activities were resumed.

KU health clinic

An officer of the basic health unit that provides initial treatment to students and teachers on the campus said no such student had visited the clinic on Tuesday. However, the clinic had circulated an alert to students some weeks ago. “The clinic is not well equipped to conduct lab tests or diagnose coronavirus,” he said.

He added that the administration had decided to conduct medical tests of the class fellows of the patient. However, most of the students and his close friends have already approached various hospitals for lab tests.

Lab findings still awaited

A report issued by the Regional Disease Surveillance and Response Unit reads that the patient along with his two friends in a group of 28 people had departed from Karachi to Imam Khomeini International Airport in Iran in a normal health state on February 6. Other members of the group belonged to various different areas of Karachi.

The report further states that the patient reached Qum city of Iran on the same day and stayed there for three days. He was in his usual state of health there.

The patient, according to the report, suffered fever with headache on February 18 and started vomiting on February 20. On February 25 when he visited a hospital, postnasal drip and coughing were noted in the patient.

However, lab findings of ‘Nasopharyngeal Swab’, a method used for the detection of respiratory viruses from samples collected from the back of nose and throat, are awaited.