Pakistan opens markets amid steep rise in cases

Updated 11 May 2020

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During the last one week, the country has recorded 200 deaths and more than 10,000 new cases of the virus.— AFP/File
During the last one week, the country has recorded 200 deaths and more than 10,000 new cases of the virus.— AFP/File

• Death toll surges to 661 as the tally of confirmed patients crosses 30,000 mark
• Centre confident that with use of technology cases will not spread rapidly
• Sindh to keep markets shut for three days a week

ISLAMABAD: As Pakis­tan embraces further relaxation in lockdown amid a sharp rise in death toll and coronavirus cases last week, the government hopes that the virus will not spread as rapidly as previously had been estimated but takes measures to prepare the nation for the worst.

Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar at a media briefing on Sunday said that besides easing the restrictions, the government was taking certain steps including the use of latest technology to identify Covid-19 hotspots and ensure ‘smart’ lockdown in order to control local transmission.

During the last one week, the country has recorded 200 deaths and more than 10,000 new cases of the highly contagious virus. With this addition, the overall death toll has surged to 661 with the number of coronavirus cases rising to 30,416.

The minister expressed the hope that the coronavirus would not spread rapidly. However, he said, the government was preparing for the worst.

Even in big cities like Peshawar and Lahore, some specific areas such as Thokar Niaz Beg were severely hit by the virus, he said, adding that hotspots were being identified across the country and latest technology would be used for enforcing smart lockdown.

“Under the new policy of smart lockdown, specific areas having Covid-19 cases will be cordoned off to stop the spread of the virus. As the lockdown has been eased so the individual responsibility of every person has increased and now everyone should take precautionary measures,” he added.

While asserting that the countrywide lockdown could not be enforced for an indefinite period, Mr Umar appreciated that the decision of easing the restrictions was taken after deliberations with the provincial governments and analysing data of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).

Talking about use of technology in the fight against Covid-19, the federal minister said a web portal and an app were being launched in Punjab. It would help even ambulance drivers to check availability of beds and ventilators at hospitals.

“As general public will be able to download the portal, while shifting a patient to hospital in a private car, they will also be able to know where they have to take the patient,” the federal minister said, adding that the portal could be replicated in other provinces.

Mr Umar urged citizens to visit hospitals if they had Covid-19 symptoms and get themselves tested without any hesitation or fear. He suggested to patients that they could even isolate themselves at their houses as it was not necessary for every patient to stay at government-built quarantine centres.

According to the NCOC data, 249 coronavirus patients across the country are in critical condition.

Amid the situation, the easing of lockdown is a challenge for traders, buyers as well as authorities to ensure that everyone adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

In the federal capital, it was observed that customers and owners of shops were not following the principle of social distancing on Saturday and Sunday when some shops of garments and clothes were reopened.

Although trader representatives across the country gave assurances to local administrations that they would ensure implementation of SOPs, it is believed that shop owners would not insist customers to observe self-distancing apprehending that they might not lose them.

The provinces have already announced inter-city and inter-provincial transport would remain suspended to reduce chances of local transmission of the deadly virus.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced lifting of the countrywide lockdown gradually from Saturday. Under the decision taken at National Coordination Committee on Thursday, markets and businesses would remain open five days a week. However, the provinces decided to maintain lockdown on Saturday and Sunday and therefore the lockdown was being lifted formally from today [Monday].

Fearing rapid spread of the virus due to the relaxation, the Sindh government decided that the lockdown in the province would be maintained on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

When contacted, Sindh minister Saeed Ghani told Dawn that they were lifting the lockdown with the fear that cases of Covid-19 might rise rapidly. “It is a difficult decision [regarding lifting of lockdown] that we are going to implement,” he said.

About the implementation of SOPs, the minister said: “We had already sealed some factories where the SOPS were not being followed and similar action will be taken against shop owners if they failed to maintain social distancing during their business hours.”

He said the provincial government held several meetings with representatives of traders who assured the government that precautionary measures suggested by the government would be adopted for public safety.

Meanwhile, Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat said some big markets such as Abpara Market would stay shut on Monday though small markets would be open.

He said the local administration was imparting training to Corona Relief Tiger Force volunteers who would visit the markets along with the officials to ensure implementation of SOPs. “We will see the trend during the first two to three days that how people behave and if they follow the SOPs other main markets will also be opened,” he added.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2020