The caretaker Punjab government announced on Thursday that all educational institutions would be closed on Friday (November 24) and Saturday (November 25) in six divisions of the province in an effort to combat smog.
“We’ve decided to close schools on Friday and Saturday in Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Sahiwal, and Sargodha divisions,” caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi announced during a press conference in Lahore, adding that the areas in question were witnessing severe smog.
Hours after the press conference, the Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) issued a notification which said that there would be “restricted movement” in the divisions.
It said that all public and private schools, colleges, universities and educational institutions would remain closed on Friday and Saturday. It further said that all markets, shops and and restaurants would open after 3pm on both the days.
The measures come two days after the Lahore High Court (LHC) directed the Punjab government to close all educational institutions on Saturdays till the end of January.
On Sunday, the Punjab government had also made face masks compulsory for residents stepping out of their homes in 10 districts. It had also previously imposed a limited lockdown to tackle the escalating air pollution levels.
According to the Air Quality Index, the AQI in Lahore at 5pm today was recorded at 306, which falls under the category of hazardous. It said that the PM2.5 concentration in Lahore was currently 51.2 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value.
During the press conference, CM Naqvi also said that 10,000 electric bikes would be provided to students in smog-hit areas on a subsidy. He said that government employees would also be offered the same facility on a lease.
The Punjab chief minister said the provincial government had also initiated efforts to implement artificial rain in Lahore and expressed that authorities would explore the option to address smog, contingent upon meeting all the requisite conditions.
“In order to induce artificial rain, specific cloud types and other necessary measures are prerequisites which we are currently working to fulfil. If all the requirements align, we intend to conduct artificial downpours in the city on Nov 29,” he told journalists.
Artificial rain, also known as cloud seeding, is a weather modification technique that aims to increase precipitation from clouds by dispersing substances, typically silver or potassium iodide, into the air to provide a surface for water vapour to condense onto. The increased condensation leads to the formation of larger water droplets that eventually fall as rain.
“We are not in favour of shutting markets. Hence, we are deciding that markets will open on Friday and Saturday from 3pm onwards […] On Sunday, all markets will remain closed as well as other businesses,” he said. He added that the district governments in all six divisions would ensure that businesses remain closed on Sunday.
Naqvi further said, “Restaurants will also open at 3pm onwards on Friday and Saturday. Offices will be open on Friday but only after 3pm on Saturday. The AQI levels are higher in the morning than in the evening, so we are trying to break that cycle.”
He said it was decided that Mall Road in Lahore would be reserved for cyclists till 5pm on Sunday.
“Some of our decisions carry symbolic significance, aiming to disrupt the peak cycle of smog, while others are intended for long-term impact,” he added. He further advised people to continue wearing masks to avoid contracting any health problems.