MUZAFFARABAD: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government on Tuesday agreed to provide some “relief” to the business community “on humanitarian basis” by allowing shops to remain open for three days from early morning to late night from Thursday.

The decision was taken after business community leaders gave assurances to Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider at a meeting that they would enforce strict precautionary measures.

On Sunday, the government had announced reversal to complete lockdown across the state from Tuesday due to rapid surge in the number of Covid-19 patients.

Some business community leaders had announced through social media posts they would defy the ban “because all businesses had been thrown open in Pakistan”.

However, on Tuesday, all businesses, except those dealing with medicines, grocery, fruit and veggies and dairy products, remained closed across AJK, as 12 more people tested positive for Covid-19, all belonging to Muzaffarabad.

Taking strong exception to the statements hinting defiance to lockdown, Mr Haider had made it clear on the floor of the Legislative Assembly earlier in the day that no one would be allowed to challenge writ of the government.

“Safety of human lives is of supreme importance for the government and I will not let any business activity take place at the cost of human lives,” the AJK premier had declared in his speech.

However, later in the afternoon, he agreed to provide some “relief” to the traders after they pleaded with him at a meeting that they had purchased their respective trading goods worth millions for the Eid and closure of their business would cause them huge financial loss.

The business community delegation was led by Sardar Iftikhar Feroz, Chaudhry Naeem and Shaukat Nawaz Mir, president, chief organiser and general secretary, respectively, of Markazi Anjuman-i-Tajraan Azad Kashmir.

Mr Feroz and his colleagues assured the prime minister that they would strictly observe the standard operating procedures (SOPs) as devised by the respective authorities.

The prime minister told them that the sudden surge in coronavirus positive cases in AJK had alarmed the government.

“The decision to revert to complete lockdown was taken out of compulsion keeping in view safety and welfare of people – something that is the foremost responsibility of the government,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2020