'Time to act as a nation': PM Imran announces new restrictions on public events, urges SOPs compliance
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday urged citizens to strictly follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) to prevent the second wave of the coronavirus from wreaking havoc in the country, saying it was time for everyone to "act as a nation".
Addressing the nation after a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC), the premier announced new restrictions on public events, including the suspension of his party's political rallies, and stressed the implementation of mask-wearing and social distancing to control the spread of the virus.
Govt's new measures to control Covid-19
- PTI rallies to be cancelled countrywide; other parties to be asked to do the same
- Factories and shops to remain open but must follow SOPs
- Restaurants to remain open but must ensure distancing
- Weddings to be restricted to 300 people maximum
- Decision regarding schools to be taken next week
"This is the time to take precautions. If we do, we can slow down the virus. Just like earlier we were saved due to following precautions, that time has come again," he said, noting that Covid-19 cases in Pakistan had increased by four times in the past two weeks.
The premier said the entire world was seeing a second wave of the virus and in some countries like the United States and England, infections had surpassed those seen during the first wave. Some Western countries are imposing lockdowns again to control the virus's spread, he added.
He said the government had been monitoring the trends of the spread of the virus in the country, but noted that Pakistan had been "very lucky" during the first wave of Covid-19.
"We were specially blessed by Allah. We are a very lucky nation; look at Iran and India. We managed to avoid the destruction that coronavirus caused in other countries," he said.
Prime Minister Imran said not only had Pakistan been able to avoid widespread deaths, but its economy was also salvaged when compared to other nations.
"But sadly we have seen that our cases have risen by four times in the past two weeks. The 6-7 deaths that we were having per day have climbed to 25," he said.
Considering the fast pace of current hospitalisations, he said, the government was concerned that hospitals in major cities would be full like in June if people didn't follow the SOPs.
The premier said it was being reported that the virus had mutated and was spreading "at an even greater speed", and expressed the fear the situation in Pakistan could worsen even more than in June — when the country saw its first peak of Covid-19.
He said the easiest safety precaution that everyone must take is to wear a face mask when out in public, which can help slow the spread of the virus.
He also stressed that efforts must be made to avoid any crowds because they often result in a large number of people getting infected.
"We also have to save our economy. For instance, India suffered a huge loss because of the kind of lockdown they imposed [...] They have still not been able to recover from it.
"We recovered earlier because we took precautions early and when we started opening up [the economy], the people followed SOPs," he added.
Prime Minister Imran said the "biggest example" of the government and the public combating Covid-19 together was that Pakistan was the only country in the world that kept its mosques open during Ramazan. "This [virus] didn't spread from the mosques because our imams and ulemas urged worshippers to follow SOPs," he added.
Ruling out the closure of factories, shops and "anything that affects people's livelihoods", the premier stressed that all businesses must follow the recommended SOPs. He said the government will monitor the implementation of SOPs and the Tiger Force will be directed to report violations.
The premier announced that the PTI was suspending its rallies across the country, in line with the NCC decision to end all activities that don't affect people's livelihoods.
"We have cancelled our jalsas and will ask other [parties] to do the same because that is one place where the virus spreads rapidly," he said, adding that infections had sharply risen in Gilgit-Baltistan after the recent election campaigns there.
Additionally, the prime minister said weddings will be allowed to be held only in open areas, with a maximum of 300 people and with everyone wearing a mask and maintaining distance.
He said restaurants were being kept open for now, but they will be required to ensure social distancing.
"Regarding schools, we have decided to monitor the situation for another week. If we observe that the virus is spreading through schools, then we will extend winter vacations and cut summer vacations short to a month," he announced.
"This [situation] is a test for the country and the entire world. If we take precautions together as a nation in the coming winter, as we did earlier, we will be able to not only save lives but also keep our economy and businesses afloat so that unemployment doesn't rise in Pakistan," the premier said.
Covid-19 in Pakistan
According to data released by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), as many as 2,443 people contracted the coronavirus on Sunday and active cases of the disease reached 26,538 on Nov 15.
The last time Pakistan reported more than 2,400 cases was on July 13 and since then the number of infections had started dropping per day and reached less than 300 in September.
The virus was first detected in China in December last year before infections started spreading to other countries.
Pakistan had closed its borders and took a number of steps to contain the transmission of the disease and because of these measures the first case of Covid-19 in the country was reported in the last week of February.
On March 13, the first meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) comprising the top civil and military leadership was held to discuss the crisis which was later declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A lockdown was announced on March 16 and a number of industries including the construction industry, educational institutions, restaurants, marriage halls, etc were closed.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was involved to ensure the provision of medical equipment and health-related supplies at the earliest and the move led to improved coordination among the provinces to fight the disease.
Pakistan also sealed its western borders with Afghanistan and Iran and even the Kartarpur shrine was closed for public.
The construction industry was reopened on August 7, and the NCC lifted restrictions on the tourism sector on Aug 8 and on restaurants and the transport sector on Aug 10 and issued a timeline for the opening of some other sectors, including educational institutions and marriage halls from Sept 15.
The situation remained under control till September, but then Covid-19 cases started increasing again in October due to which the NCOC had to announce that the second wave of the virus had hit the country and smart lockdowns were enforced in different cities.
On Nov 11, the NCOC meeting decided to increase restrictions in different sectors and suggested early and extended winter vacations in educational institutions besides taking other measures to contain the spread of the disease.