(Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

A little over two months after students across Pakistan returned to classes, the authorities on Monday decided to close all educational institutions again from November 26 to January 10 to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed nearly 7,700 lives and infected over 3.7 lakh people in the country.

The decision was taken at a meeting of Pakistan’s education ministers. Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood chaired the meeting of education ministers of all four provinces as well as representatives of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan.

“It has been decided that all universities, colleges and schools will be switched to online teaching mode and all educational institutions will be closed from November 26 to December 24,” Mahmood said.

“Winter vacations will be observed from December 25 to January 10. The institutions will reopen on January 11. But we will hold a review meeting to evaluate the situation in the first week of January,” he said.

Educational institutions in the country reopened on September 15, over six months after they were closed in view of the outbreak of the pandemic.

The minister said examinations will be cancelled and held after the reopening of institutions in January.

However, entrance exams will be held as per routine. Mahmood said there was a proposal to extend the current academic session until August and organise various board examinations in May or June. Taking to Twitter, he asserted, “When we say all educational institutions will close on Nov 26 and students will home learn, we mean ALL institutions without exception.”

It was reported that initially all provinces and regions except Sindh were in favour of the closure of schools. But later Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani said he would follow the decision taken at the meeting.  Pakistan’s coronavirus tally surged to 376,929 on Monday, with 2,756 fresh infections being reported in the last 24 hours, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

Thirty-four more fatalities were reported, taking the country’s death toll to 7,696, the ministry said. At least 330,885 people have recovered while some 1,677 are in critical condition. The number of active patients stands at 38,348.

Sindh has reported 163,329 cases, Punjab 114,508, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 44,599, Islamabad 27,018, Balochistan 16,810, PoK 6,123 and Gilgit-Baltistan 4,542 cases.  So far, Pakistan has conducted 5,216,955 tests, including 36,929 in the last 24 hours. The positivity rate of cases stands at 7.4 per cent, according to the ministry.