KARACHI: Despite an appeal from Prime Minister Imran Khan to standardise lifestyle while staying safe from the coronavirus pandemic, the Sindh government on Friday made it clear that it was not going to lift the ban on public transport anytime soon as it believed that the operation of buses and ride-hailing services could turn Karachi and other Sindh cities into Italy and Wuhan of China.
Sindh Transport Minister Syed Awais Shah categorically ruled out the possibility of resumption of the public transport in the current situation when coronavirus cases were witnessing a sharp rise in Karachi and other cities of the province.
He was critical to the PM’s advice and asked him to consult experts before sharing his thoughts on the matter of Covid-19, its risk and precautions.
“As the PM of the country we respect his views and suggestions,” the Sindh transport minister said in a statement right after the PM’s televised address where he came up with a number of suggestions and future prospects of life with threat of the coronavirus.
“But we can’t allow public transport services. We are seeing cases rising every day and in this situation it would be absolutely a wrong decision to allow buses and other vehicles of public transport on roads to add risk to the people’s lives,” he said.
Transport minister asks PM if he wants the country turned into Italy or Wuhan
He cited the violation of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and government guidelines both by traders and buyers when the lockdown was relaxed earlier this week, claiming it resulted in a spike in cases of Covid-19.
A similar situation, he said, was witnessed at different industrial units allowed to resume their operations, but they failed to meet the commitment and follow the rules of social distancing and implementation of all due precautions.
The Sindh government put a ban on all kind of public transport services in the third week of March before the lockdown was formally imposed on March 23. With the imposition of the lockdown, the operations of ride-sharing services was also suspended leaving people mostly dependent on private or personal vehicles to move from one place to another. The provincial government also banned the intercity bus service to stop movement of people from one city to other.
The Pakistan Railways (PR) on March 24 suspended the operation of all its passenger trains throughout the country in view of the fast-spreading coronavirus, further reducing options for commuters.
Despite pressure to review the policy, the Sindh transport minister stood firm on his decision even passing almost two months to the ban and warned that the relaxation in the lockdown being demanded by certain segments of society and supported by the federal government could prove disastrous.
“Does our PM want our country to turn into Italy or Wuhan,” said Shah in his statement. “The PM should consult some experts for such suggestions and decisions. There is a strong fear that with the relaxation in the lockdown we could have faced an Italy-like situation. The PM himself has admitted that the SOPs are being ignored while the lockdown is relaxed. We appeal to the PM to coordinate with provinces for joint efforts. This is high time to save lives of the people not for politics.”
Hotels, restaurants will not open
Meanwhile, the provincial minister for industries and commerce and cooperative department and anti-corruption, Jam Ikramullah Dharejo, said that the government could not take the risk of opening hotels and restaurants.
He said this while participating in a meeting via video link on the situation of coronavirus at the National Command and Operations Centre, Islamabad, said a statement.
“In the current situation, hotels and restaurants cannot be opened while the automobile industry can be opened under SOPs,” the statement quoted the provincial minister as saying. “There is a need to provide employment opportunities while giving priority to human lives. There is a need to change the lifestyle due to the coronavirus. The Sindh government is cooperating with the federal government for the betterment of the people at all levels. The coronavirus can only be defeated jointly.”
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2020