Lockdown eased, extended for two weeks

Published April 15, 2020
LAHORE: Brushing aside all concerns regarding spread of the new coronavirus, a large number of people go about their business at the Badami Bagh fruit and vegetable market on Tuesday.—Online
LAHORE: Brushing aside all concerns regarding spread of the new coronavirus, a large number of people go about their business at the Badami Bagh fruit and vegetable market on Tuesday.—Online

• ‘Low-risk industries’ allowed to reopen amid reservations by Sindh over containment of virus
• PM says situation will be reviewed before Ramazan
• Ordinances on construction industry, smuggling, hoarding today

ISLAMABAD: The government has extended the prevailing lockdown for another two weeks with some essential industries being allowed to reopen.

Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the decision in his televised address to the nation on Tuesday after chairing a National Coordination Committee (NCC) meeting, which was attended by the chief ministers of all provinces.

The decision by the government to open certain workplaces came on the day when the death toll from Covid-19 touched 100.

The sectors that will open up after this announcement include the construction industry (cement shops, bricks kilns, crushing plants, bitumen and prefabricated construction materials), chemical and manufacturing plants, e-commerce for export, e-commerce for local deliveries of necessary items, software development and programming, paper and packaging units, plants nurseries, cement plants, fertilizer plants, mines and minerals, laundry services, agriculture machinery/equipment manufacturing plants, glass manufacturing, veterinary services, stationary and book dealers and all export industries provided their export orders are approved by Trade Development Authority of Pakistan.

Although the Centre and provinces have reached a consensus on opening essential industries, Sindh has expressed reservations over easing the restrictions considering that effective lockdown was necessary for containing the spread of deadly virus. The federal and provincial governments, however, have had a difference of opinion over the viability and intensity of lockdowns. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, who advocated for an effective lockdown, said the death rate from the virus had increased from 2.1 per cent to 2.3 per cent.

After the meeting, the PM announced that the lockdown, which was imposed on March 26, would continue for the next two weeks. He said the Centre and provinces had a general consensus on opening of some essential industries and adopting precautionary measures. However, he added, the provinces could implement their own policies where needed.

Referring to the concerns that opening of industries might increase the risk of local transmission of the deadly virus, the PM said the government would again review the situation before Ramazan.

“If we find the disease is increasing in some areas and sectors, we will shut them down again,” he announced.

However, he said, some more industries would be opened if the situation headed towards normalcy. “The situation in Pakistan is not as bad as it is in the US and other European countries, but people should exercise maximum precautions,” he added.

The three worst-hit countries in the world — the US, Italy and Spain — remain in lockdown as deaths worldwide from Covid-19 have crossed the 100,000 mark. While there may be some cautious optimism in Europe that many countries may have hit the peak of infections or would be nearing it, there is no conclusive evidence of any major slowdown of the virus. In Pakistan, officials believe the death rate so far is less than what was feared in initial weeks. They say Pakistan has moved fast to upgrade its health infrastructure and acquire essential equipment and the health facilities are coping with the pressure of rising infections.

However, the officials point out that the next few weeks could pose a serious challenge.

The prime minister said poor and daily wage earners were the worst affected by Covid-19 just because a large number of them were unregistered. “It is difficult for the state to reach all of them,” he said.

Despite these limitations, Mr Khan said, the government had launched the country’s largest ever social welfare programme, Ehsaas, to provide financial help to those who needed it the most.

Two ordinances

The PM announced that two ordinances would be promulgated on Wednesday for provision of incentives to the construction industry and to curb smuggling and hoarding of essential items.

Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar said the government had identified the industries where the risk of virus transmission could be low. The low-risk industries would be allowed to operate with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place, he added.

The minister said Sindh had some reservation on the opening of construction sites while Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were in agreement to open the construction sites. He said the Gilgit-Baltistan government had asked for resuming only government-related construction projects.

Stranded Pakistanis

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Dr Moeed Yousuf said the centre and provinces had agreed to bring back over 35,000 Pakistanis stranded in different countries. He said six major airports were being opened for international flights for this purpose.

He said Pakistanis were being brought back in phases. Between 6,000 and 7,000 people would be flown back home after April 20, he said, adding that preference would be given to labourers, Umrah pilgrims, Zaireen and those whose visas had expired.

He said the government was also opening controlled trade of essential items from Iran, as five districts were dependent on Iranian imported items.

Dr Yousuf said 5,000 to 6,000 Pakistanis were also being allowed to return from Afghanistan via Torkham border before Ramazan, but they would have to be quarantined on their arrival.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2020

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