Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said he had asked the Pakistan Army to assist the police and law enforcement agencies in enforcing SOPs for curbing the spread of the coronavirus, warning that Pakistan may soon be facing a situation similar to India if the current trend continues.
Addressing the nation after a meeting of the National Coordination Committee, he said: "I am appealing to you to follow SOPs so that we don't have to take steps that India is taking which means imposing lockdowns. Half the problem is solved when you wear face masks."
New SOPs announced by the NCOC:
- Schools in districts with over 5pc positivity rate closed till Eid
- Markets to be closed at 6pm
- Indoor and outdoor dining banned till Eid; only takeaway and delivery to be allowed
- Office timings limited to 2pm
- 50pc of staff to be allowed in offices
India marked a grim milestone in the Covid-19 pandemic on Thursday, reporting 314,835 new daily cases, the highest one-day tally anywhere, as its second wave and similar surges elsewhere have raised new fears about the ability of health services to cope.
"If our circumstances become the same as India, then we will have to close down cities. We can't do that because, as experience has shown, the poor suffer the most when lockdowns are imposed," the prime minister said.
"People are telling me to impose a lockdown today, but we are not going to do so because, and I keep repeating this, daily wagers and labourers will suffer the most."
That is why we have not taken action, he said, adding that however long this lasts will depend on the people. The premier called on the nation to start observing precautionary measures, in the same way which you did the previous year during Ramazan.
"Pakistan was the only country which had kept mosques open last year during Ramazan. I was proud of the way our religious scholars and imams informed the people about precautionary measures," he said.
The premier also noted that very few people were following SOPs. "If we don't take precautionary measures, we will have to impose a lockdown which will also affect our economy at a time when it is on the rise."
PM Imran added that he had asked the Pakistan Army to assist the police and law enforcement agencies in enforcing SOPs. "We have been asking people to follow precautionary measures. But we have seen that people have become careless."
He added that the government was making all out efforts to procure vaccines. "We have asked China, but their demand is also quite large. There is a shortage in the rest of the world."
Even if we get the vaccines today, it will take at least a year for them to have an impact, he said. "What will make the biggest difference is following precautionary measures," he said, reiterating that half the problem is solved when wearing face masks.
He hoped that once the nation starts following SOPs, the number of cases would decrease. "Until we face this together, we will not be able to win. I remember how a year ago people adopted precautionary measures and followed SOPs before Ramazan because they were scared.
"But citizens have become tired over the span of a year and fatigue has set in which is why there is such a stark difference." He hoped the nation would follow SOPs so that the government is not forced to lock down cities.
During the briefing, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar explained that the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) had been instructed to formulate a plan with the provinces in light of rising coronavirus cases.
He said that it had been decided that schools in districts with a positivity rate of more than five per cent will be closed down till Eid, including grades 9-12.
"Markets will be allowed to remain open till 6pm. After that, only essential services will be allowed to operate and a specific list of such businesses will be issued," he said.
He said that restrictions had already been imposed on indoor dining. However, outdoor dining will also be banned till Eid while takeaway will be allowed, the minister said, adding that indoor gyms will also remain closed.
"Office timings have been limited to 2pm because shops are open till 6pm and we want that people have enough time to visit markets." He urged those wanting to buy things specifically for Eid to visit markets during the day as shops will be closed in the evening and after Iftar.
"Do not wait until the last three to five days, start shopping now," he advised. "As the prime minister said, if cases increase we may have to impose a lockdown. So try to complete your Eid shopping bit by bit."
He added that the government had emphasised the "work from home policy" so that more than 50pc of employees are not called into offices.
Umar also said that a policy was being created for Covid-19 cases being reported in travellers from abroad. "Instructions have been issued to make a detailed policy in the next one to two days to reduce the number of people coming from abroad while also strengthening the testing and quarantining system."
Commenting on the oxygen supply in the country, he said that approximately 90pc of Pakistan's oxygen capacity was being used, of which 80pc was being utilised by the health sector. He said the government was working on improving the situation and would import it if the need arises.
"If you follow these guidelines, then we will be able to celebrate Eid with our loved ones. But if you don't then we will face a difficult situation in the future."
Pressure on healthcare facilities
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan said that during the first wave of the pandemic, the healthcare system was under stress and around 3,500 patients were on oxygen.
"However, now the number is above 4,600," he said. "Apart from this, the positivity rate is continuously hovering at 10pc which tells us the extent of the spread of the disease."
There are many major cities where the positivity rate is more than 20pc, he said, adding that it was also rising in areas which had previously reported a lower number.
"The result of this is that it puts pressure on our healthcare system as well as doctors, nurses and other medical professionals." He reiterated that Pakistan's oxygen capacity was currently under stress as around 90pc was being utilised.
He concluded by asking the nation to follow SOPs in order to protect themselves and their loved ones.
CM Sindh calls for ban on inter-city transport
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah also attended the NCC meeting via video link and said that the positivity rate in Sindh had been lower than other provinces but had started reaching new highs.
He said that the positivity rate in Karachi had been 4pc, 5pc in Hyderabad but during the last one month it had increased to 16.64pc in Hyderabad, 8.93pc in Karachi and 5.64pc in the rest of the province.
"This is a very serious situation, and we would have to take strong decisions, otherwise the situation would go out of control,” he said, adding that lockdowns would have to be imposed to save the people.
The chief minister said that had the federal government decided to impose a ban on inter-city transport as was suggested by him on March 31, then the situation would have been under control in Sindh.
He added that it was time to take strong decisions and ban inter-city transport, ensure strict vigilance at airports, impose lockdowns in districts where cases were on the rise, declare vaccination mandatory for doctors and policemen, strict administration and allow the provinces, particularly Sindh, to procure vaccines directly.
The chief minister also earlier chaired a meeting of the Coronavirus Taskforce in which the recommendations for the NCC session were discussed. The meeting also decided to procure Covid-19 vaccine in bulk and store it at Dow University Hospital, Ojha campus.