Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Wednesday lauded Prime Minister Imran Khan for building consensus among the provincial and federal governments regarding lockdown measures in the country.
Speaking at a press conference in Karachi, Shah said the decision that was taken during yesterday's meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) was that the lockdown in the country should be extended.
"I am happy that the rest of the provinces decided to implement this. There are exceptions [to the lockdown], but they are calculated ones."
A day earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced that the restrictions imposed by the government on public gatherings, assemblies and the opening of educational institutions would remain in place for another two weeks.
Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar had also said that the government had "identified industries where there is a low risk of the virus spreading" and they will be allowed to operate with standard operating procedures in place.
In today's press conference, the chief minister said that while there was an agreement to extend the lockdown in the country, there were certain items on the agenda regarding which the provincial governments and the Centre did not see eye to eye.
"Some provinces and the federal government had wanted to reopen certain businesses. We opposed the idea for allowing tailors, electricians and plumbers to reopen their businesses," he said.
However, we did concede that plumbers and electricians, that visit homes to provide services, will be allowed to work, after implementing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the government, he said.
Today's remarks by the Sindh chief minister come just days after he lashed out at the federal government for its "mixed signals" which he said made the lockdown imposed in the province ineffective.
But in sharp contrast to his earlier criticism, CM Shah conceded that "at first we did not understand why the construction industry needed to be opened" but that in the briefing yesterday, the prime minister "explained that it was the second largest sector in Pakistan following agriculture" and was crucial to the economy, he said.
"Eventually all provinces agreed on easing some curbs."
The chief minister said that citizens should refrain from thinking that the lockdown for the next two weeks had been eased. "It is a stricter lockdown. There are just a few exceptions."
He proceeded to explain that all businesses/essential services that have been granted permission to operate, will only be able to do so after ensuring the SOPs outlined by the government.
"For factories, the administration will have to arrange transport for workers and will have to compile lists regarding the details of all employees. Further, buses will bear the name of the industry in question and will only be filled up till one third of their capacity."
He added that no construction site is open at the moment. They will only be allowed to open after implementing the SOPs, he said, adding that all builders will need prior permission from the administration to begin operations.
Regarding home delivery for food businesses, the chief minister said that none of the restaurants will be allowed to resume deliveries without adhering to the guidelines issued by the government.
He added that there will be some relaxations made at eateries frequented by labourers and daily wagers as those do not have the option to deliver food.
Commenting on congregational prayers, Shah said: "Mosques were open and prayers are being held but with restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather."
He added that a concrete decision regarding congregational prayers will be taken after reaching an agreement with religious scholars.
Shah also had a message for the younger generation, working in essential services, that will leave their homes to go to their jobs.
"The virus affects the elderly very fast. When you go home, disinfect yourself and stay away from the older people in your house.
"Saving one life is equivalent to saving humanity," he said.
'Some Covid-19 deaths going unreported'
At the beginning of his press conference, Shah said he feared the actual number of deaths from Covid-19 was higher than what was currently being reported.
"Known deaths, where the patient tests positive and they die, are so far 41 in Sindh. However, you may have also seen reports about dead bodies being brought to hospitals, which experts say cannot be tested for the coronavirus."
There are some deaths we feel are due to Covid-19 but they have not been confirmed, he said. "The burials for these patients were carried out according to the guidelines specified. There were 15 such cases."
Shah went on to say that a stigma has been created regarding the special precautions for the funerals and burials of Covid-19 patients due to which many families were staying quiet and burying their loved ones in silence.
He explained that according to the World Health Organisation, Sindh was the only province that was conducting Covid-19 testing according to the guidelines issued by the UN health body.
"But if we feel as though some cases are slipping through the cracks, then I fear there are some cases that are going undetected."