Pakistani provinces eased lockdown restrictions, coronavirus runs amok

HYDERABAD: Police official requesting an elderly person to offer prayer at home outside Haji Baba Hayat Jama Masjid as Sindh Government ban congregational prayer (Friday Prayers) for precautionary measures to prevent corona virus outbreak, Pakistan. INP PHOTO by Yasir Rajput. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD, May 9, 2020, Pakistan Today. Even though Pakistan reported over 2,000 coronavirus cases and over a dozen deaths on Friday, the provinces and federal territories went ahead and eased lockdown restrictions that were in place to contain the rising number of Covid-19 infections, Pakistan Today reported.

The announcement came in spite of the 18 deaths, raising the death toll to 611, and the total number of coronavirus cases shooting up to 26,954 with the addition of over 2,000 cases in a single day.

Punjab and Sindh have the highest number of infections, with 10,033 and 9,691 cases, respectively. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have reported 1,873 and 4,327 cases each. In Islamabad and Gilgit-Baltistan, the infection swelled to 558 and 394, respectively. However, Azad Kashmir has the lowest number of cases, with 78 infections so far.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced the lifting of the countrywide lockdown in phases from Saturday after a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC).

Though the Punjab government eased some restrictions, like the opening of OPDs, it has written a letter to the federal government, asking for the restriction measures to remain intact in major cities to contain the contagion.

Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan said that the provincial government will submit a recommendation to the Centre for not lifting the lockdown in the province’s major cities.

Speaking to reporters in Lahore, he said: “We have seen that there is a hype about coronavirus in some big cities. Therefore, we are submitting this recommendation to the federal government and if it is approved, then the lockdown and standard operating procedures will remain in big cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, and Gujranwala.”

He added that higher secondary board examinations in Punjab will be cancelled and students will be promoted based on last year’s grades. Schools will reopen on July 15.

As per the federal government’s decision, OPDs in the province will open from May 9, Chohan said. He added that the SOPs for congregational and Taraweeh prayers in mosques as announced by President Arif Alvi will remain in place.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah told a press conference in Karachi that under “phase two” of the easing of the restrictions, businesses linked to construction industries will be allowed to open while observing the preventive guidelines. Selective OPDs will also be allowed to resume services.

Shah then elaborated on the new lockdown standard operating procedures (SOPs) for businesses. He said that the province will follow to a tee, the timings allowed for businesses to operate — from sehri to 5pm.

The chief minister said that areas classified as dehs (a demarcation of land inhabited by farming communities) will be able to keep shops open as they are less populated.

He also said that small shops located in residential areas will be permitted to operate.

Shah, while acknowledging that small business owners are facing “extreme hardships”, requested the federal government to devise a scheme whereby they be provide loans on easy payback terms.

“Let me clarify to traders, restrictions are not being imposed by us (Sindh),” he said.

“It was the federal government’s decision to keep large markets closed,” he said, adding that keeping shopping malls closed was a unanimous decision taken by all governments.

He said that a committee comprising Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar, Education Minister Saeed Ghani, Information Minister Nasir Hussain Shah and law adviser Murtaza Wahab will meet with the traders to engage with them on their concerns and reservations which will be forwarded to the Centre.

He went on to say that all industries that were shut down before May will remain closed. Similarly, public venues where large gatherings can occur such as wedding halls and cinemas will also remain shut.

“We have not forbidden weddings, but large gatherings will not be allowed.”

He said that keeping in spirit with the Supreme Court directives, which had called for a uniform plan to be implemented countrywide, the Sindh government had agreed to support the Centre in its decisions. Murad said that there will be a complete ban on political rallies.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the provincial government issued a notification, saying the businesses associated with the construction industry will be exempt from closure subject to them following the standard operating procedures (SOPs) already issued for industrial units and sale points.

Businesses of steel and PVC pipes, electric appliances, manufacturers of steel and aluminium equipment, ceramic and paint industries, sanitary, paints, steel and aluminium works, and hardware stores will be allowed to open four days a week, not later than 4:00pm. They will remain closed on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Even though a Balochistan government official had warned that cases could rise up to a million if the lockdown measures are not imposed, Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan approved the move to turn the lockdown imposed in the province into a ‘smart lockdown’.

Balochistan government spokesperson Liaquat Shahwani announced that markets will be allowed to open from 3am till 5 in the evening, adding restrictions are enforced in virus hotspots only. Shopkeepers and traders will be bound to implement SOPs for precautionary measures while legal action will be taken against the violators, Shahwani tweeted.

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