Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday ruled out a sweeping lockdown once again on a visit to Lahore during which he held meetings with Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, Governor Muhammad Sarwar and other officials to evaluate the virus situation in the province.
The premier's visit to Lahore comes a day after the Punjab government had sent recommendations to the federal government to tighten lockdown measures in the province, in particular Lahore, in a bid to curb the growing number of Covid-19 cases.
But after holding meetings with the provincial government's top brass, PM Imran said a strategy of "smart lockdowns" will be implemented instead whereby strict adherence to standard operation procedures (SOPs) will be ensured to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Addressing a press conference in Lahore alongside CM Buzdar, Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid and his advisers, the PM said:
"After analysing with my Punjab team today, [we've decided that] we will not impose a lockdown but will impose selective lockdowns — trace and seal hotspots," he said, adding that the country's administration and police were not in a position to take "such a huge burden of a complete lockdown".
He reiterated that in South Asian countries, the burden of a lockdown would fall on the poor people "who rely on daily wages". "For countries like us, the only option is a smart lockdown so that the burden doesn't fall on poor people."
Noting that the public had made light of government mandated SOPs so far, the premier warned that from now on there will be "consequences" if Covid-19 SOPs weren't followed.
"It's important to understand the consequences of not following the SOPs. If, for example, people in a factory do not follow the SOPs, we will shut down that factory. And then the poor will lose their income," he said.
"We were leaving it on you [the public] until today but unfortunately I did not see people taking it seriously. People think it is like the flu," PM Imran said, adding that the government had now come up with a system to crackdown on violations and apprehend those behind them.
'Sophisticated' software to report violators
Elaborating on the system, Dr Faisal Sultan, the prime minister's focal person on coronavirus, said the government had prepared a "modern and sophisticated" software to help it identify coronavirus hotspots around the country.
"This will allow the administration to implement and enforce stricter restrictions, or in other words, a smart lockdown," he said.
Prime Minister Imran added that volunteers of the government's Corona Relief Tiger Force will go into these areas [hotspots] and report violations of SOPs in the month of July.
"Our Tiger Force will use technology to report violations of SOPs and we will act on their complaints," he said.
Steep rise in Punjab cases
Yesterday, a handout issued by Punjab CM's Office had revealed that the government wanted to impose stricter restrictions in the province, in particular a special strategy for Lahore where the situation was deemed "critical", after approval from the federal government.
The handout noted that violations of SOPs in Lahore were rampant and that more than half of Covid-19 cases in Punjab were from Lahore.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) expressed concern over the hasty lifting of restrictions in a letter to the four provinces, stating that Pakistan did not meet any of the prerequisites for opening of the lockdown.
It also alerted Pakistan to its high positivity rate, underlining seriousness of the Covid-19 situation and poor efforts of the government in this regard.
As a strategy to help contain the massive transmission of coronavirus, the WHO recommended the provinces to impose a two-week lockdown. “WHO strongly recommends the two weeks off and two weeks on strategy as it offers the smallest curve,” the letter said.
Earlier this month, it had emerged that on May 15 an alarming summary was presented by the Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department to CM Buzdar according to which "no workplace and residential area of any town was disease-free" in Lahore, Punjab's capital, and that the total number of cases in the city were estimated at around 0.7 million.
Advising the chief minister to immediately enforce a complete lockdown for "at least four weeks", the summary had said that a smart lockdown would not work since all areas of the city had been impacted by the disease, adding that asymptomatic cases had become the "main source of infection and local transmission" in the metropolis.
"Any subsequent decision of lifting, relaxing or doing away with lockdown measures should be taken after reviewing the results of smart sampling conducted with regular intervals till the final tapering down of the virus," it had recommended.
Estimated 30-40 per cent of hospitals vacant across Punjab: Yasmin Rashid
Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid, meanwhile, said that an estimated 30-40 per cent of hospital facilities across Punjab were currently vacant.
Rashid said that around 10,000 beds were available for Covid-19 patients in the province and 2,000 additional beds will be acquired "very soon".
She shared that in Lahore, 197 public-sector ventilators along with 104 from the private-sector were available for Covid-19 patients.