Sindh, GB opt for lockdown over virus threat

Email

KARACHI: Army vehicles patrol near Governor House after Sunday midnight.—Shakil Adil / White Star
KARACHI: Army vehicles patrol near Governor House after Sunday midnight.—Shakil Adil / White Star

KARACHI/GILGIT: The authorities have imposed a lockdown in Sindh — for 15 days — and in Gilgit-Baltistan — for an indefinite period — from Sunday midnight to contain the spread of coronavirus epidemic.

The decision to lock down Sindh, disallowing people to venture out of their homes “without a valid reason”, was announced by Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah after he held meetings with government officials and representatives of opposition parties in the provincial assembly.

In his video message and a press statement released from the CM House, Mr Shah said the lockdown had been imposed after consultation with all political parties, within and without parliament, Ulema and people from different walks of life.

“The local transmission cases [of Covid-19] are spreading and we have to contain them, otherwise everything will go out of control,” he said.

The chief minister said: “From tonight (12am) onward for 15 days, all the offices, gathering places, public transport and bus stands would remain closed. Nobody will be allowed to come out of their home unnecessarily for which I have given clear instructions to the law enforcement agencies and the administration.”

Gilgit-Baltistan Law Minster Aurangzab Khan and Information Minister Shams Mir announced the GB government’s decision to lock down the region to contain rapid spread of coronavirus.

• Murad says closure in province to last 15 days • Gilgit-Baltistan ministers announce lockdown for indefinite period • Movement restricted to need-only basis • KE extends due date of bills below Rs4,000 to April 10

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Khan said all markets and shops, except grocery shops and medical stores, would remain closed and inter-district transport would remain suspended from Sunday midnight.

GB Scouts, rangers and police would be deployed to enforce the lockdown and violators would be punished, the minister said.

The Sindh CM said people who had to go to hospital would be allowed, but the vehicle carrying them would have only three persons — the driver, the patient and one attendant — and they should have their computerised national identity cards.

He said that during the relaxation time of the lockdown, to be announced by the government, only one person of a family would be allowed to go to market/shop. In case of using a vehicle, only two persons would be allowed — the driver and the person going for shopping.

The chief minister said that the people involved in hoarding and profiteering would be taken to task. “We have formed special teams to check artificial price hike and hoarding,” he said. “It will be ensured that the supply chain of food items, including vegetables and meat, keeps moving.”

CM takes parties into confidence

The chief minister said leaders of different political parties were taken into confidence before the imposition of lockdown in the province and that he had briefed the leaders about the prevailing situation that had led to the imposition of lockdown.

The political leaders who attended a meeting with the chief minister include Zubair Ahmed of the PML-N, Firdous Shamim Naqvi and Haleem Adil of PTI, Amir Khan and Kishwar Zahra of MQM, Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman of Jamaat-i-Islami, Nand Kumar and Shaharyar Maher of GDA and Aslam Ghori of JUI-F.

Utilities

The chief minister also directed all utility service agencies to suspend their billing for lowest users for this month and then start recoveries in easy instalments during the next 10 months.

He directed the K-Electric, Hesco and Sepco to suspend recovery of powers bills of those consumers whose bills would be up to Rs4,000 for this month and then start recoveries in 10 monthly easy instilments. Similarly, he said, the Sui Southern Gas Company authorities would follow the suit and its threshold of gas bill had been kept at Rs2,000.

Mr Shah directed the power distribution companies, phone and mobile phone companies and water supply and sanitation agencies to continue their services uninterrupted and ensure that there would be no disconnection of any connection.

The chief minister directed the landlords not to collect rent of their properties from their tenants for this month and then collect the same in easy instalments.

He urged the employers to pay full salaries to their daily wagers so that they could meet provide two square meals a day to their families in this difficult situation.

Mr Shah said the wings of political and religious parties and philanthropists would keep supporting poor people by giving them ration. “The Sindh government will also ensure provision of ration or cash to poor people and daily wagers,” said.

Twitter & Face Book accounts

The chief minister said that the Sindh government was making its Twitter and Facebook accounts where all government instructions, notifications and necessary guidelines would be posted.

He said the decision to lock down Sindh had been taken with collective wisdom and in the supreme interest of people of the province therefore everyone living in the province would have to cooperate. “Your defiance is bound to fail the entire process,” he said.

Emergency Fund

The provincial government has established the Coronavirus Emergency Fund to help provide medical treatment to covid-19 patients, conduct tests, improve health facilities and financially assist daily wagers.

The chief minister, in his video message, urged philanthropists to donate in the fund entitled the Government of Sindh Corona Emergency Fund. The donations can be deposited in Account No. 03015594456100 of Sindh Bank.

“Your contribution will help the government to meet growing expenditures incurred on coronavirus patients,” he said.

The fund will be operated by a five-member committee comprising Chief Secretary Mumtaz Shah, Finance Secretary Hassan Naqvi (government members), Faisal Edhi, Mushtaq Chhapra of Patients Aid Foundation and Professor Dr Abdul Bari.

The committee will have the authority to make transparent use of the fund and ensure its third party audit.

The chief minister also assured the people that every penny of their donations would be used for coronavirus patients, suspects and related welfare work.

KE response

K-Electric has announced that it has extend the due date of all power bills below Rs4,000 till April 10 at the request of the Sindh government and to facilitate customers, according to a statement issued by the company.

The K-Electric said it was cognizant of its responsibilities and committed to standing by the people of Karachi during this unprecedented situation.

A spokesperson for K-Electric said the power utility was facilitating even business fraternity in these difficult circumstances and had stepped forward to provide relief to customers by ensuring uninterrupted power supply and exempting critical hospital sites from loadshedding.

The spokesperson said providing uninterrupted power supply to Karachi’s residents was the highest responsibility of the company, especially now that people had to stay indoors.

“Discharging this responsibility requires business continuity and the ability to make necessary fuel purchases. The power utility has been bringing to the attention of the Provincial and Federal Government for several months that KE’s outstanding dues have ballooned to over PKR 240 billion; an unsustainable level which can drastically impact K-Electric’s ability to manage routine operations,” he said.

The power utility appealed to both the federal and provincial governments for payments against these outstanding dues so that it could continue to provide service.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2020