LAHORE: Buckling under the business community’s pressure and to ‘keep the economy running’, the Punjab government has allowed opening of all markets, bazaars, shopping malls and other businesses five days a week with longer working hours.
The decision was taken despite the Punjab primary and secondary health department’s “smart sampling” data analysis report that showed a massive spread of coronavirus in Lahore, dwarfing the available figures of infected patients.
The government has, however, decided not to open new avenues for public’s outdoor interaction in the spaces like restaurants and parks, mainly because people did not take the coronavirus threat seriously during the Eid holidays, multiplying the number of virus-positive patients in the province.
The provincial capital has emerged as a hub of Covid-19 patients, followed by Gujranwala and Faisalabad.
Parks, restaurants to remain close
“The Punjab government is currently not heading towards another lockdown, but will review the on-ground situation after seven days,” an official privy to the development told Dawn on Monday.
Though the administration of the Islamabad Capital Territory has decided imposing Rs3,000 fine on those not wearing masks outdoors, the Punjab has just launched a massive awareness campaign to educate the public regarding such safety measures.
“At a later stage, the Punjab government may also go for imposing fines,” the official said.
The provincial government, a source said, had deliberated on closing some sectors that were earlier allowed to open but they contributed massively in increasing the number of coronavirus patients.
The government has instructed all traders and shopkeepers to ensure that the customers should be wearing masks and sanitising their hands. The government expects the same from the transporters.
“Eventually, the traders will suffer losses if businesses are shut for not observing the laid down SOPs in the markets, bazaars and public transport,” an official said.
The government has also ordered the traffic wardens to check the commuters and ask the violators to wear marks.
“The government wants the people at individual level to realise the gravity of the situation and stay home or in case of going out take all preventive measures,” an official, who attended Chief Minister Usman Buzdar’s video-link meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“The message -- ‘stay home, stay safe’ and regarding taking preventive measures has reached each and every person, thanks to the media, so it is being expected that the government should not be compelled to go for imposing fines,” the official said and added that the people must change their way of life.
It is learnt that the the federal government declined Punjab’s proposal for opening restaurants. The proposal for opening of some 4,500 registered restaurants, besides the unregistered ones, including ‘dhabas’ in Lahore alone, was discussed by the Punjab government, but it was opposed on the grounds that it would not be possible to monitor the enforcement of the SOPs at such place.
Similarly, the Punjab government had also recommended opening of parks to allow people to go out and relax to overcome the mounting mental stress, but the proposal was also rejected.
As the Punjab government is facing protests from people related to the tourism industry at different tourist resorts, it recommended opening of tourism, particularly in Murree and Galliaat arguing that this industry had a small window of three-four months for business during summer season.
A Punjab government official said the National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) meeting had asked the chief ministers of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan to deliberate and come up with recommendations and SOPs for opening tourism industry during summer – within the next four days.
“The Punjab government expects permission will be granted,” the official said.
In the wake of smart sampling data analysis in Lahore, the Punjab government and local administration was focusing more on the provincial capital to control the infection spread.
After Lahore its main focal points would be Gujranwala and Faisalabad.
Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2020