The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Sunday decided to ban wedding ceremonies from April 5 onwards in cities and districts where the positivity rate is above 8 per cent, as part of new restrictions to contain the third wave of the novel coronavirus in Pakistan.
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar chaired the session which was attended by the chief secretaries of all four provinces via video link. In the meeting, the NCOC decided the ban would extend to both indoor and outdoor weddings, however, "provinces will be at liberty to implement restrictions in [an] early time frame as per the situation on ground".
Meanwhile, in a televised message, Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly urged the public to follow Covid-19 SOPs and the necessary precautions, cautioning that the third wave of the virus in Pakistan was "more intense" than the first two waves.
The new set of restrictions comes as Pakistan finds itself in the grips of a third coronavirus wave. Pakistan recorded more than 4,000 cases for a third straight day on Sunday with 4,767 new coronavirus cases and 57 deaths in the last 24 hours. This marks the highest single-day increase since June 21, 2020, according to data collected by Dawn.com, when 4,916 cases were reported.
The current spike was again led by Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad with 2,823, 979 and 538 new cases, respectively.
The country-wide breakdown of new cases is as follows:
- Punjab: 2,823
- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: 979
- Islamabad: 538
- Sindh: 252
- Azad Jammu and Kashmir: 122
- Balochistan: 44
- Gilgit Baltistan: 9
Umar said the decision to tighten restrictions was taken keeping in mind the "continuing increase in disease spread and the fast pace at which hospital fill up is taking place", particularly pointing to the increase in cases of critical Covid patients.
He said the provincial chief secretaries had been instructed to ensure compliance of Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) and urged people to "cooperate with the administration as they are enforcing these SOPs for safeguarding us".
Along with weddings, all kinds of indoor and outdoor gatherings were also banned with immediate effect. This order includes all social, cultural, political, sports gatherings and other events.
Options were also considered to restrict inter-provincial transport but the final decision on this will be taken after "input from provinces and analysis of data regarding number of inter-provincial commuters via air, rail and road".
Additionally, provinces were urged to ensure timely completion of inoculation targets set by the NCOC and timely uploading and registering of data in the National Immunisation Management System — an online portal that serves as the “brain” of the vaccination process.
The NCOC will also provide updated maps with Covid hotspots to the provinces for the "enforcement of expanded lockdowns with effect from March 29 (Monday)".
Prime minister's message
Prime Minister Imran in his message highlighted the grave situation facing the country, and recalled his own experience with the virus.
"I took care for one whole year, didn't go to any wedding or eat at any restaurant, kept my social distancing and mostly wore a mask so I was protected. When the first two waves and peaks of Covid came, I was among those Pakistanis who managed to avoid this disease.
"When the Senate election came, [however], I didn't take the care that I should have and I contracted the disease as well," he said.
The prime minister said he could not emphasise enough the need for the people to take precautions because "this third peak which has come is more intense than the first two peaks."
Imran reiterated that the country could not afford to close down businesses and the economy or lock down people and continue to feed them, citing a lack of resources.
But the public could help avoid a catastrophic scenario by wearing masks and avoiding public gatherings or enclosed spaces, the premier stressed.
"Half of our hospitals are filled, patients are increasing in the hospitals [and] are going on ventilators and oxygen," he said, noting that the infection rise seen in the third wave was due to the British variant of the virus which had caused cases to increase in Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar.
Prime Minister Imran also pointed out that the world was facing a vaccine shortage and Pakistan was now being told it wouldn't be able to get the vaccines it had earlier been assured of due to shortages in vaccine producing countries.
"God had mercy on me and my wife, but because I've passed through this, let me tell you that this is such a disease that if it spreads to your chest then it is a very dangerous disease. That is why I'm urging you to take full precautions regarding it."
Umar had warned yesterday after a session of the NCOC that Pakistan's coronavirus situation could soon cross levels seen during the first wave in June last year.
"If the increase continues at this rate, then in the next few days or next week, we will go beyond the level and peak we saw in the first wave in June and you all must remember what the situation was at the time," he had said.
The federal minister had appealed to the people, sections of society, religious scholars and the media to play their role in containing the pandemic and also called upon the political leadership for help.
"It is my request to all the political leadership — whether ours or the opposition — that this is the time to show leadership and spread this message that we have to once again combat this disease which is spreading and defend our people."