The interior ministry has issued a notification allowing the provinces and federal territories to seek the help of the army to enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) for curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
In a video message on Sunday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said according to the notification, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and Islamabad will avail the services of the Pakistan Army for implementation of Covid-19 SOPs "as per their need". He said Sindh had not opted to be part of the measure for now.
He added that this was a "big decision" taken because neighbouring India was reporting 350,000 or more Covid cases on a daily basis.
The minister said the Pakistan Army had always stood with the people when floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters hit the country, therefore, it was decided during a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) to seek the army's services to enforce the coronavirus SOPs.
Orders issued by the Ministry of Interior, seen by Dawn.com, notified the deployment of the armed forces, citing the decision taken during the NCC meeting on April 23.
"The federal government, in exercise of the powers conferred under Article 245 of the Constitution [...], is pleased to authorise deployment of sufficient strength of troops of Pakistan Army, we.f. 25th April, 2021, on the requisition of the Government of Punjab in the province in connection with enforcement of NCC/NCOC guidelines on Covid-19 and matters ancillary thereto subject to laws enforced in Pakistan," one of the orders said.
It said the requirement of troops will be worked out by the Punjab government in coordination with the army authorities, adding that "the date for de-requisitioning of army troops will be decided subsequently on the basis of mutual consultation of all stakeholders and decision by the NCC/NCOC." Similar notifications were issued for KP, Balochistan, Islamabad, AJK and GB.
Meanwhile, the GB Home Department issued a notification for the deployment of army and Rangers personnel in cities with a Covid-19 positivity rate of more than five per cent. It also banned dining at restaurants and closed all parks in the region.
On Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he had asked the Pakistan Army to assist the police and law enforcement agencies in enforcing Covid-19 SOPs, warning that Pakistan may soon be facing a situation similar to India if the current trend continued.
Addressing the nation after a meeting of the NCC, 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."
A day later, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government requested the federal government to authorise the deployment of armed forces and civil armed forces in the province to ensure effective implementation of the Covid-19 guidelines
Likewise, the Balochistan government said the army would be called in if the people did not follow the SOPs to save them from the deadly virus.
Pakistan on Saturday saw a record 157 deaths from Covid-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country, while the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) decided to allow the army, Frontier Constabulary (FC) and Rangers to assist law enforcement agencies in enforcing SOPs if requested by the provincial governments.
The NCOC meeting, which was presided over by Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, deliberated upon the proposed lockdowns in high virus prevalence cities with stakeholders.
The participants were of the view that if cases continued to rise, critical care facilities in that particular city would become overwhelmed.
“The decision on lockdown will be taken after discussions with all stakeholders. The purpose of the lockdowns will be to contain the spread of the disease through implementation of SOPs,” the forum’s statement said.
“A few proposed restrictions will include closure of markets and malls, less essential services, ban on inter-city public transport and shutting down of education institutions,” it added.
With additional reporting by Imtiaz Ali Taj in Gilgit.