Azad Kashmir eases Covid-19 restrictions

Published December 31, 2020
Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government on Wednesday eased off restrictions it had imposed in the wake of the spike in Covid-19 cases in the territory. — Tanveer Shahzad/File
Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government on Wednesday eased off restrictions it had imposed in the wake of the spike in Covid-19 cases in the territory. — Tanveer Shahzad/File

MUZAFFARABAD: Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government on Wednesday eased off restrictions it had imposed in the wake of the spike in Covid-19 cases in the territory, particularly in the state capital Muzaffarabad and the lakeside city of Mirpur.

The government had imposed complete lockdown from Nov 22 until Dec 8, almost on the previous pattern with the exception of permission to the public transport to operate with “strict” adherence to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

The complete lockdown was replaced with “smart” lockdown from Dec 9 as part of the government’s desperate efforts to contain the resurgence of the deadly viral disease.

During the smart lockdown, all businesses and shops were allowed to remain open from 7am to 10pm, except on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The ban on gatherings and congregations and marriage halls was not lifted and restaurants and hotels were directed to work as takeaways, instead of serving food on their premises.

However, the government came under severe criticism after a big gathering of the social media activists of ruling PML-N was held at the PM House on Dec 25, followed by a big public meeting in the town of Patikka to inaugurate a health facility.

It was in the wake of that criticism, Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider took to Twitter in the evening of Dec 26, announcing that the “restriction on public gathering [had been] lifted [by the government] and [that] from Monday all [other] restrictions will be lifted.”

However a formal notification “to revive the normal activities of life” was issued by the home department on Wednesday, two days after the tweet of the prime minister.

The notification stated that political and social gatherings had been allowed at a “limited scale” but with strict observance of the SOPs.

There will be complete lockdown on Fridays but the grocery and medical stores, dairy, fruit and vegetable, meat and chicken shops, restaurants, tandoors and LPG cylinder shops will be exempted from it, added the notification.

The restaurants will open with adherence to the SOPS, utilizing 50pc of their total capacity and will close like all other businesses, except the pharmacies, by 10pm.

The marriage halls will also utilize 50pc of their total capacity, but in any case participation of a maximum of 300 guests will be allowed. Inside homes, a maximum gathering of 50 persons will be allowed, the notification stated.

Tourists will also be allowed but strict adherence to the SOPs at all tourist spots will be ensured. Similarly, public transport will continue to ply with SOPs, but “unnecessary travel will be discouraged.”

According to the notification, Saturday’s holiday in all divisional and district level offices was withdrawn but heads of the departments were empowered to exempt any employee from attendance in keeping with his age and health conditions.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2020

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