ISLAMABAD: The National Coordination Committee (NCC) on Covid-19 on Thursday decided to lift restrictions on tourism sector from Aug 8 and on restaurants and transport sector from Aug 10 and gave a timetable for opening some other sectors, including educational institutions and marriage halls.
A meeting of the NCC presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by representatives of all the provinces also decided to lift restrictions on railways, airlines and metro buses. However, restrictions on the number of people allowed to travel by trains, planes and buses and the mandatory gap between the passengers will remain in place till September. These will be lifted by October if the situation allowed.
These restrictions were enforced on March 16 to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
“Restaurants and cafes, outdoor and indoor, will be allowed to open from 10th August and standard operating procedures (SOPs) will be finalised in next two to three days. Moreover, public parks, theatres, cinemas, amusement parks, arcades, expo centres and beauty parlours will also be allowed to open from Monday,” Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said at a media briefing after the NCC meeting.
He said permission had been given for organising tournaments and matches involving non-contact sports without the presence of audience. Moreover, he added, indoor gyms and sports clubs would also be opened.
Restrictions being lifted from tourism sector on 8th; restaurants open on 10th; decision about educational institutions due on Sept 7
Mr Umar said 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 Sept 15, but a final review will be carried out on Sept 7 as the federal education minister will consult with provincial ministers on the matter,” he said.
He said health and education ministers had been told to see how other countries had dealt with the issue of opening of schools.
Mr Umar said restrictions on tourism would be lifted on Aug 8 as SOPs for the sector had been finalised, adding that restrictions on transport, specifically railways and airlines, were also being lifted.
The minister said restrictions on road travel were being lifted on Monday, but permission would not be given for standing and travelling on buses.
He said marriage halls could also open from September 15 and hotels could host marriage ceremonies. 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 governments. Moreover, he said, the ban on pillion riding was also lifted with SOPs.
Mr Umar said businesses and markets would follow the timings in place before the pandemic hit the country. He said the threat had not gone away, though the situation had improved due to implementation of SOPs by the administrative machinery.
The minister said the NCOC worked as a “nerve centre”, but the situation improved because people cooperated and followed the SOPs. He termed the reduction in number of Covid-19 cases a success of the nation.
“However, people should not take it as complete victory as the situation can reverse in case of change in attitude of people. I appeal to the people to take more precautionary measures than before. I used to feel suffocated wearing a face mask for half an hour but now I wear it for eight to ten hours a day while participating in meetings,” he said.
Mr Umar said the whole world was trying to learn from the experience of Pakistan. He called the people of Pakistan heroes as they played a major role in controlling the virus.
Meanwhile, All Rawalpindi Restaurants and Hotel Association president Sain Ijaz Malik and secretary general Chaudhry Mohammad Farooq welcomed the government’s decision to reopen eateries and marriage halls.
Mr Farooq said the months-long lockdown of eateries had badly hit the industry and endangered the livelihoods of over 10 million people attached with the hospitality sector directly and indirectly. He said that during successive meetings of the association with members of the federal cabinet, they had given undertaking of taking proper precaution to counter the spread of Covid-19 in dining areas of the restaurants.
On the other hand, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), a representative body of doctors, has expressed concern over the decision and said the government should have at least waited for the consequences of Eidul Azha.
“It will take 10 days to know if the virus rapidly spread during Eidul Azha. There are some events such as 14th August on which once again people will start gathering. Moreover, Majalis will be held during Muharram due to which another spike can be observed,” PMA secretary general Dr Qaisar Sajjad said while talking to Dawn.
He said that over 100 doctors had sacrificed their lives to control the virus, but this decision might again increase the number of patients and hospitals might again become overburdened.
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2020