ISLAMABAD: In compliance with the Supreme Court directive, the government on Monday allowed resumption of train service, public transport and opening of all shopping centres across the country.
The decision was taken in a high-level meeting on the coronavirus situation presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, as total cases of Covid-19 crossed the 43,000 mark, with 924 deaths across the country. Over 11,920 patients have recovered.
The prime minister agreed to a transporters’ demand that they should not reduce their fares. He also accepted Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid’s demand for resuming train service with a limited number of trains to facilitate the poor and low-income group. The prime minister also took a decision to open all markets throughout the week, including Saturday and Sunday.
Following the meeting, the Islamabad administration issued a notification allowing opening of markets the whole day by lifting a restriction on closing of markets and shops by 5pm.
The prime minister also announced that traders could open their shops during Eid holidays.
PM agrees to non-reduction of transport fare
“We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court,” Information Minister Shibli Faraz said at a press conference after the meeting. “The Supreme Court’s directive has vindicated Prime Minister Khan’s stance of simultaneously fighting the pandemic and saving the vulnerable segments of society from hunger and starvation,” he added.
He said the Pakistan Railways, industry and small businesses, including shopping malls, had been allowed to resume their activities by strictly adhering to the government’s standard operating procedures (SOPs). He said the prime minister was of the view that the intensity of Covid-19 in Pakistan was not as severe as it was in other countries in Europe and the United States.
Meanwhile, a source who attended the meeting told Dawn that the prime minister had hailed the apex court’s decision and said he was already in favour of lifting the lockdown restrictions. However, Mr Khan directed the authorities concerned to enforce precautionary measures and SOPs while reopening businesses and industries.
The source said that on the issue of restoration of transport, the prime minister agreed to the transporters’ stance on how they could reduce fares when they were carrying half of the passengers in their vehicles.
The prime minister expressed satisfaction over restoration of public and inter-city transport in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Regarding resumption of rail service, he said train was a transport of the poor and common man and running trains would help people reach their hometowns.
The information minister said the government was maintaining a balance between economic activities and preventive measures against the coronavirus pandemic. He said the train service would resume from May 20 and it was a responsibility of the railways divisional headquarters to implement the SOPs.
Similarly, Mr Faraz said, the industrial sector had also been allowed to operate by ensuring implementation of preventive measures against coronavirus. The industry would be allowed to run even during Eid holidays.
The minister said a prolonged lockdown was not in the interest of the country as daily wage earners could not afford restrictions. However, he added, following precautionary measures was vital to tackling the challenge of coronavirus.
He said production of protective equipment had started in the country and the surplus products would be exported. He asked the masses to ensure social distancing in shopping malls and markets.
Mr Faraz said the prime minister wanted to speed up the reforms process in the health sector as the pandemic situation demanded it should be carried out on an urgent basis.
He said the decision to ease the lockdown was aimed at facilitating people, particularly the weak segments of society, to earn their livelihood and it was everyone’s responsibility to make it successful. He warned that restrictions could be imposed again if people did not adopt self-discipline despite having undergone the painful experience previously.
In reply to a question about a massive increase in the prices of essential items during Ramazan, the minister regretted that it had become a tradition in the country to get maximum profits during the holy month, which was not the case in other countries. It was a serious issue, he said.
Mr Faraz said the government had ensured uninterrupted supply of essential commodities, besides bringing down inflation and interest rates. He said the business community should cooperate and give relief to the people by taking advantage of these two factors.
Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2020