LAHORE: The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Monday decided to increase the number of cattle markets across the country but shrink their size and implement strict standing operating procedures (SOPs) to curb the spread of Covid-19 during Eidul Azha whose payers will be organised on the pattern of Eidul Fitr ensuring social distancing.

At its maiden meeting in Lahore, the NCOC decided that some 700 cattle markets would be established on the outskirts of cities across the country. No cattle market will be allowed inside any city.

The meeting, presided over by federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar through video link from Islamabad and hosted by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar at his office, also decided that all the cattle markets would remain open from 6am to 7pm.

The meeting decided that the respective local administrations would ensure screening of the people entering the cattle markets, wearing of face masks and physical distancing. They would also ensure that visitors do not gather in large number at one place.

The NCOC has also identified 30 big cities as Covid-19 hotspots through auto trace and National Information Technology Board (NITB) maps and is currently monitoring 321 smart lockdowns across the country. Around three to eight million people and 10-30 per cent Covid-19 patients are under 300 to 500 smart lockdowns on a rolling basis.

The country reported 2,005 Covid-19 cases and 47 deaths over the past 24 hours, taking the national tally of cases to 252,982 and fatalities to 5,304. Overall, 161,917 patients have so far recovered.

As the meeting was told that all stakeholders in the cattle markets had been duly informed about healthcare protocols and SOPs, Mr Umar said proper administration would ensure control of all kinds of diseases that might spread from such markets.

The meeting was informed that 750,000 cases had been detected through the tracing, testing and quarantine (TTQ) and smart lockdown strategies. Those found having contracted the virus were quarantined at their homes that helped save some 300,000 people from getting infections.

When contacted, Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid said the health department’s efforts proved fruitful as the number of deaths and Covid-19 cases had reduced drastically. The apparent highest spike was witnessed on June 11 after Eidul Fitr, which continues decreasing due to smart lockdowns and strict implementation of SOPs. “Punjab has recorded seven deaths and 487 new cases on Monday,” she added.

Dr Rashid said that about 80pc of beds allocated for Covid-19 patients were now lying vacant in hospitals across the province. She said there was no patient in the field hospital set up at Expo Centre, adding that it would be carried forward until Muharram as a backup for any emergency-like situation. After that, she added, the field hospital would be disbanded and all infrastructures, including oxygen equipment, beds and partitions, would be shifted to big public sector hospitals in Punjab.

Soon after the NCOC meeting, Asad Umer tweeted: “In today’s meeting with Chief Minister Punjab, I complimented efforts made by the Punjab government to control spread of Covid19 and improve healthcare capacity in the province.”

He said he also emphasised the need for continued vigilance for SOPs compliance, smart lockdowns and most importantly Eidul Azha SOPs.

Earlier, Chief Minister Buzdar welcomed the NCOC team and said its decision to hold meetings at all provincial capitals would go a long way in better understanding the situations and implementing future strategies. He said the NCOC core team’s visits to the provincial capitals would encourage teams working at the provincial level.

Mr Buzdar lauded the prime minister’s vision to fight the pandemic and said the federal and provincial governments, civil administrations and security forces had performed well to control coronavirus in the country.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2020