Despite the government’s assurance that SOPs will be properly followed, students can’t help but have a wave of fear wash over them as they look back at the calamitous effects that resulted from the previous reopening of institutions.
Almost a year ago, Pakistan reported its first ever case of corona virus in Karachi. One year later, we are still surrounded by this virus which has proven to alter itself as it mutates unforgivably. With the second wave arriving in mid-November, there have been an average of 2000+ cases reported per day, with some people viewing this as a predictable consequence after the announcement of the government to hastily reopen educational institutions at the end of the first wave. This resurgence of cases undeniably brings flashbacks of the ramifications of the first wave.
The government’s decision to once again reopen educational institutions in the middle of the second wave is highly debatable. Being forced to attend schools in this pandemic, along with the added drawback of the smoggy winter season, only aggravates the situation. Despite being cognizant of the dangers that are associated with allowing crowds of children to gather in close proximity at these institutions, the government continues to be adamant on students attending their classes in the hopes that they won’t be wasting their precious educational years and, almost comically, seems to believe that the virus will just vanish into thin air. And so, it was proposed that all educational institutions would be reopened.
Despite the government’s assurance that SOPs will be properly followed, students can’t help but have a wave of fear wash over them as they look back at the calamitous effects that resulted from the previous reopening of the institutions.
Asma Khan*, a student in Lahore, told TNS “My University is reopening on the 1st of February. I can’t explain how unsafe I feel going back into an environment in which I know that SOPs are not going to be properly followed.” She further highlighted the dire situation in the canteens where everybody sits and eats together without wearing any masks, and how, even the food is constantly being shared. She also embarrassingly points out that the university fails to refill the hand sanitizer bottles properly - filling them up with only water instead.
Surprisingly, some universities also leave students with no choice but to sign affidavits which spare the university from any blame in case a student contracts the virus on university grounds. “We have little choice but to sign these affidavits,” pointed out Raiha Gulzar*, a student in her second year of medical school in Islamabad. “If we don’t sign them, they will cancel our attendance” she added.
While valuing the power of education, it’s still quite unfortunate to see how the government seems to prioritize it over actual human lives. Our primary focus in this unusual pandemic should be to collectively put an end to it, instead of worrying about the proficiency of our potential future workforce. After all, how can there be a promising future when we are putting the lives of our children at grave risk?
Razia*, a student of grade 8, says that nobody in her class follows the SOPs as directed. She claims that the students are aware of how the vast majority of them are not taking the precautions seriously and that it’s only a false portrayal in front of the authorities that the SOPs are being followed. When the majority of the students can’t follow the SOPs properly, it makes it dangerous for even those who are trying to follow all the precautions to protect their loved ones from getting infected.
It is especially difficult for young students in preschools to wear a mask for 6-7 hours a day. Even if they are used to wearing a mask, it’s wearisome for most of them to wear one for so many hours a day. Maha*, a mother of a student in the second grade says, “It seems like telling our children to wear masks and to not touch their faces is almost impossible. Yes, they may be able to do it for 2-3 hours at most but you can’t expect such young children to follow the SOPs properly for the whole day! Children are born explorers and it goes against their nature to sit remotely in one place at a distance from their friends.’’
It should also be noted that some people are also asymptomatic and without frequent testing, others are at a risk of contracting the virus from them without even knowing. Through the students, their families can be affected, thus producing a domino-like effect and further aiding the virus to spread like wildfire. It is essential to realize that without mandatory periodic testing, some people might refuse to get themselves tested due to its’ high cost. Furthermore, breadwinners of some families might not be able to afford to quarantine themselves, allowing these hesitations to accelerate the spread of the virus.
While some might insist on the importance of opening educational institutions, there are those who believe that by doing this, we are just running in circles, further pressurizing our already burdened healthcare system instead of dealing with the pandemic in a pragmatic way.
The only way it can be completely safe to reopen educational institutions is if frequent testing is carried out, along with reliable contact tracing and a proper plan of control by the authorities to ensure that everybody follows the SOPs. So far, all of these are just mere ideas instead of systematically implemented policies.
— Names have been changed to protect privacy*
The writer is a medical student at the CMH Lahore Medical College and Institute of Dentistry