MURREE: The Hotels Association, Anjuman Tajran Murree, workers and guides association have demanded that the lockdown enforced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by lifted in the city.

They said that workers, traders and hoteliers are in the midst of a financial crisis and said that standard operating procedures (SOP) should be adopted which will be implemented for them to conduct business amid the coronavirus outbreak.

A lockdown was imposed in Murree in March, under which tourists were banned from entering the hill resort.

Tourists are not allowed to enter Murree Town at the Satra Mile toll booth. Only locals who bear identity cards with a Murree address are allowed in, and long queues have been observed while police officials check CNICs at points of entry on both roads entering Murree — the Islamabad-Murree Expressway and the Rawalpindi-Murree-Kashmir Highway.

Former Murree Traders Organisation president Abdul Hameed Abbasi said that the condition of business in Murree is very different from the rest of the country.

“[Murree] has only two months of tourism-related business and in these two months, hundreds of thousands of people including workers make a year’s worth of earnings. If the town remains closed in the two months of June and July, these workers and their families will face hunger,” he said.

There are around 1,100 hotels in the town and more than 25,000 workers in the hotel sector and in other businesses that depend on tourism. The ban has left them unemployment and facing poverty, he said.

On the eve of Eidul Fitr, around 1.2 million tourists typically enter Murree for three to four days, traffic police sources said.

Almost no tourists visited the town this year, Javed Abbasi, Imran Abbasi, Yasir Abbasi and other local shopkeepers said, adding that most shops, hotels and restaurants were closed and many workers dependent on tourism-related businesses were unemployed and in crisis.

Local MNA and PTI north Punjab president Sadaqat Ali Abbasi also called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and informed him of the impact of the lockdown on tourist resorts such as Murree. Mr Abbasi told Dawn.

He said he asked Mr Khan to lift the lockdown and to include the Murree and Galiyat tourism industry in the relief package for small and medium enterprises. He said Mr Khan promised to include the Galiyat’s tourism industry in the relief package.

Former town nazim and local PTI leader Sardar Saleem Khan also headed a 20-member delegation of the Murree Hotel Association to meet Punjab Law Minister Raja Mohammad Basharat. Delegation members said Mr Basharat assured them the provincial government was aware of the problems facing Murree’s business community and the difficulties of the working class due to the lockdown and restrictions.

He assured the delegation that the Punjab government would address the matter, keeping in consideration the safety of tourists and workers during the pandemic.

“The problems faced by business community and workers associated with the tourism and their demands have already been forwarded to the Punjab government and the final decision would be made by the Punjab government in accordance with the SOPs set by the National Command Centre,” Murree Assistant Commissioner Zahid Hussain, who holds additional charge of administrator, told Dawn.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2020