Traffic jam seen on Bank Road in Rawalpindi’s Saddar area after the market reopened on Monday. — Photo by Mohammad Asim
Traffic jam seen on Bank Road in Rawalpindi’s Saddar area after the market reopened on Monday. — Photo by Mohammad Asim

ISLAMABAD: The capital administration is struggling to impose safety measures in markets after the government’s announcement that lockdown restrictions are being lifted and the administration’s own notification extending the lockdown have created confusion among the public.

Officials in the administration said that while the government decided to lift the lockdown, the administration extended it until May 31 with exemptions, keeping markazes and commercial centres in private and cooperative housing societies closed.

But all these markazes and commercial centres have reopened without the administration’s permission in the last four days, and the administration is reluctant to take action against traders violating its orders because it may face protests in response.

There is confusion among traders after the government announced its decision to lift restrictions, the officials said. They said this was why markazes and commercial centres that are supposed to stay closed opened without any orders permitting them to do so.

Calling city’s tally of Covid-19 cases ‘alarming’, DC says the virus spreading further will make for an unbearable situation

The officials added that no safety measures are being implemented in markets, including social distancing. This is an ideal situation for the coronavirus to spread, as people have lost the element of fear, they added. They said people may comprehend the situation once it spirals out of control because of their casual attitude towards measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The officials said this situation has placed the administration in a dilemma, as it has to follow the government while also implementing SOPs to limit the spread of the coronavirus through people and traders. This, they said, was an impossible job that may lead to an unbearable situation in the coming days.

Senior officers have met with traders’ union representations and standard operating procedures were agreed upon to address the matter, they said. These will be announced by tomorrow (Tuesday), and marakazes and commercial centres will be allowed to open accordingly.

New SOPs for commercial centres

Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Hamza Shafqaat told Dawn he met with traders and the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce to address their reservations, including permission to open markazes, markets and commercial centres.

The meeting discussed strategies and SOPs for traders under which business would be allowed to open in these areas while taking precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus. These SOPs will make local traders’ unions and the Corona Tiger Force responsible for implementing these measures, Mr Shafqaat said.

The SOPs will also allow the administration to seal entire markazes, markets or commercial and shopping centres if violations are observed there, he said. Only those areas will be allowed to open where unions take responsibility for implementing SOPs and checking violations along with the administration and police.

“Without the traders taking responsibility, none of them will be allowed to open,” he said.

Mr Shafqaat said that the number of Covid-19 cases in Islamabad has crossed 600, which is alarming. The virus spreading further will make the situation unbearable.

He said traders associations and market unions have agreed to implement the SOPs and the Tiger Force will be used to inspect sites and help enforce social distancing measures. In case of violations, traders have agreed to strict action including sealing shops.

Under the SOPs, everyone must wear masks and use hand sanitiser, while shop employees’ temperatures and symptoms must be checked and everyone must keep a six feet distance between each other.

Mr Shafqaat said another meeting was held with a delegation of Shia ulema regarding Youm-i-Ali on Ramazan 21. He said that there would be no public procession because of growing threat of the coronavirus, or any other gatherings or section 144 violations.

Majalis will be allowed according to the SOPs issued for Taraweeh prayers, he said, under which people must practice social distancing, wear masks and compounds must be disinfected to protect everyone in attendance.

The ulema will wait for the federal government’s guidelines and have assured that they will comply with them fully.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2020