Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar announced on Thursday that restrictions on the hospitality and recreational sectors, put in place nearly five months ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus, would be lifted from August 10 (Monday).
"Restaurants and cafes, outdoor and indoor, will be allowed to open from Monday, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) will be finalised in the next two to three days.
"When it comes to the recreational sector, which includes public parks, theatres, cinemas, amusement parks and arcades [...] these will also be allowed to open from Monday," he said, adding that this also applied to business centres, expo centres and beauty parlours.
He maintained that permission was also being given for organising tournaments and matches involving non-contact sports without the presence of an audience from Monday, in addition to allowing indoor gyms and sports clubs to open.
Earlier today, the National Coordination Committee (NCC) had met to decide the line of action to be adopted to return the country to normalcy. The meeting was chaired by the premier and attended by representatives from all the provinces.
Addressing the media in Islamabad, the minister began by explaining that the NCC had deliberated on the recommendations put forth by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) in consultation with the provinces.
"It has been decided that educational institutions will open from September 15, but a final review [of the situation] will be carried out on September 7," he said, adding that the federal education minister would consult with the provincial ministers on this matter.
He added that the health and education ministries had been told to work closely on this, keeping in mind the lessons learnt from schools opening in other parts of the world. "But right now the plan is to open educational institutions from September 15."
Elaborating on the decisions taken regarding the tourism sector, the minister said that restrictions will be lifted from August 8 (Saturday) as SOPs had already been finalised.
Umar added that restrictions on transport, specifically railways and airlines, were also being lifted. "But restrictions on the number of people that can be present on trains and planes, and the condition to seat passengers with a gap, will remain in place till September."
He explained that these would also be lifted by October if the situation allowed.
Commenting on road travel, the minister said that restrictions were being lifted on Monday but permission will not be given for standing and travelling on buses. "I don't want to go into detail, but there is a difference in the danger [of the virus spreading] when passengers are standing and when they are sitting."
Marriage halls can also open from September 15 and hotels can host marriage ceremonies, he said.
He maintained that permission was also being given for opening shrines. However, in case of a large gathering, citizens will be bound to follow the guidelines issued by the provincial government, he said.
The ban on pillion riding was also lifted with SOPs, he said.
Umar said that businesses and markets would follow the timings in place before the pandemic hit. "Because the situation is different in each province, they will revert to pre-corona timings."
Word of caution
The minister concluded his address by issuing a word of caution to the people of the nation. "The threat has not gone away [...] the situation has improved because the government formulated a clear strategy which was implemented by the administrative machinery."
The NCOC was working as a "nerve centre" and reviewing the situation on a daily basis, he said. "But this worked because the people cooperated. This would not have been possible without the cooperation of the people.
"So this is your success and a success for the nation."
However, he cautioned citizens from thinking of this as a victory.
This is an evolving situation, he said, adding that negligence and a change in attitude could reverse the positive trend witnessed so far.
"I appeal to the people that you have to take more precautionary measures than before. We have the experience and we have learned from them.
"I used to feel suffocated wearing a face mask for half an hour but now I wear it for at least eight to ten hours a day," he said.
"The whole world is saying that they can learn from what has happened in Pakistan, and this was only possible cause of the people," he concluded, calling the people the "real heroes" behind the country's success in controlling the spread of the virus.