View of traffic on Murree Road in Rawalpindi on Tuesday, the second day since the lockdown was lifted. - Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
View of traffic on Murree Road in Rawalpindi on Tuesday, the second day since the lockdown was lifted. - Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

RAWALPINDI/ISLAMABAD: There has been no reprieve from the spread of Covid-19 in Rawalpindi after four more deaths and 52 more cases were reported on Tuesday. Meanwhile, people appear to have thrown caution to the wind, crowding markets while the district administration and police appear helpless before traders.

A 52-year-old man who lived in Khayaban-i-Sir Syed died of Covid-19 on Tuesday. He had been admitted to the Rawalpindi Institute of Urology (RIU) on April 23.

A 40-year-old man who lived in Dhoke Bohar Shah Kalyal also died, a week after he was admitted to Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) on May 5. In addition, a 65-year-old man who lived in Dheri Hassanabad and was admitted to a military hospital on May 11 died a day later, as did a 72-year-old resident of Harley Street brought to BBH on May 11.

Rawalpindi now has at least 1,291 Covid-19 patients, of which 59 have died and 292 have recovered. At present, 940 people are being treated in hospitals and 419 are isolated in their homes.

Islamabad admin reopens commercial centres conditionally as total number of cases cross 700

The local administration has quarantined 2,028 people who were in close contact with confirmed patients, of which 1,609 are quarantined in their homes.

There has been a marked rise in the number of cases reported in Rawalpindi district compared to the neighbouring districts of Attock, Jhelum and Chakwal. There were 10 patients reported in these three districts in the last two days and 140 reported during the same period in Rawalpindi.

While Covid-19 cases and deaths continue to rise, the number of visitors to markets led to traffic congestion on downtown roads, and social distancing was nowhere to be seen in the narrow streets of Raja Bazaar.

The government has not allowed large shopping malls to open, but markets that have been permitted to resume operations have drawn crowds and traders who had assured the local administration that all the necessary safety measures would be implemented have not done so.

Commissioner retired Capt Mohammad Mehmood told Dawn that the government has asked the district administration to ensure standard operating procedures (SOP) are enforced in markets to contain the spread of Covid-19.

He said special instructions have been issued for markets, and in the event of violations the government would revise its decision to keep these markets open.

Mr Mehmood said the number of Covid-19 patients has increased in the last two weeks; there have been 1,535 cases in all four districts and 66 deaths - 59 of which were in Rawalpindi.

A senior district health authority official told Dawn that fewer tests have been conducted in the other three districts, while testing in Rawalpindi is higher.

He added that most patients are coming from urban areas rather than rural areas, where people may be less informed and mistake Covid-19 symptoms for those of a common flu.

Islamabad admin allows markazes to open

The capital administration has allowed shops in commercial centres to open, conditionally, for five days a week in light of a government announcement that lockdown restrictions are being lifted.

Shopping malls and weekly markets will stay closed.

A notification issued from the office of the deputy commissioner said that shops in Islamabad’s main markazes are allowed to open from Monday to Friday, other than those included in a ‘negative’ list in notifications issued on April 15 and 25 and May 9. They may operate from sehri to 5pm.

Store owners and traders’ unions will be responsible for compliance with SOPs issued by the administration, the notification said. Representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the respective markaz traders union and Tiger Force volunteers will conduct inspections and ensure SOPs are enforced along with the police and administration.

Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Hamza Shafqaat said that after successful negotiations with the traders community, commercial centres are being allowed to open conditionally. He said all the traders committees and associations have ensured that they will implement SOPs to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among shoppers and shopkeepers.

“It is the prime responsibility of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and the traders’ unions to ensure the implementation of SOPs at every shop as they do their business,” he said.

Malls and weekly markets will not reopen because they draw large groups of shoppers, Mr Shafqaat said. Barber shops, educational institutions and academies are among the businesses that will also stay closed.

Mr Shafqaat said the administration will observe the situation and the implementation of SOPs in markazes and commercial centres for the next few days. He said he hoped those responsible will cooperate and assist the administration by taking precautions.

He said that it was impossible to check all the shops in a markaz and enforce SOPs because of a shortage of staff. For this reason, traders have agreed that an entire markaz will be sealed if any shop violates SOPs.

The decision to open shops from Monday to Friday will also be reviewed if people are observed travelling from Rawalpindi to Islamabad on Fridays to shop, Mr Shafqaat said. Shops in Rawalpindi can only open for four days a week.

Islamabad’s Covid-19 cases cross 700

There have now been 716 cases of Covid-19 reported in the capital, of which 638 are active. So far, 72 people have recovered and six have died.

The 37 new cases were reported from various areas, and the coronavirus has now spread to I-16 after one case was reported from there.

Eight patients were reported from Lohi Bher, three each from G-10, G-8 and Tarlai, two each from G-15, G-6, I-10 and I-18 and one each from E-14, F-6, G-13, G-9, H-13, I-9, Bhara Kahu, Kirpa, Rawat, Shah Allah Ditta, and Sohan.

A police constable stationed at Rescue 15 has also contracted Covid-19, the police said.

Deputy Inspector General of Police (Operations) Waqaruddin Syed confirmed that a constable has tested positive for the disease. He said patient lives in Shah Allah Ditta and contracted the virus there.

NA speaker discharged from hospital

Also on Tuesday, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser was taken to the Speaker House from the hospital where he had been admitted for treatment for Covid-19.

Mr Qaiser had tested positive on April 28 and was taken to his hometown,Swabi.He returned to Islamabad last week and was admitted to hospital after his condition deteriorated. He was discharged on Tuesday after he stabilised.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2020