KARACHI: Army personnel patrolling a market in Saddar on Thursday to ensure implementation of restrictions imposed by the Sindh government due to a surge in coronavirus cases. (Right) People stand in queues for vaccination at the Expo Centre.—PPI / APP
KARACHI: Army personnel patrolling a market in Saddar on Thursday to ensure implementation of restrictions imposed by the Sindh government due to a surge in coronavirus cases. (Right) People stand in queues for vaccination at the Expo Centre.—PPI / APP

ISLAMABAD / KARACH: As the Covid-19 situation continues to deteriorate in Karachi, federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Thursday rejected the idea of closing entire cities to curb the spread of coronavirus.

He said Sindh was having the lowest compliance of pandemic-related standard operating procedures (SOPs) along with Balochistan i.e. 33pc.

Pakistan has been facing the fourth wave of the pandemic and the number of daily cases has been continuously increasing.

The Sindh government has been considering enforcing more restrictions and complete lockdown in Karachi. However, Asad Umar, who is also the head of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), disagreed with the idea and said that Pakistan should go with the idea of smart lockdown which had succeeded in the past and the country did not face severe financial loss.

All public sector workers required to get vaccinated by Aug 31

“We should not forget that the working class and labourers will have to pay the price of complete lockdown. Smart lockdown is a tried-and-tested strategy and it should be implemented. Closing down the cities for weeks is not a solution,” he said.

On the other hand, he praised the Sindh government’s efforts to curb the spread of the virus and enforce the SOPs.

Mr Umar said SOPs compliance was 56.4pc in Islamabad, 46.6pc in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 42.7pc in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 37.4pc in Gilgit-Baltistan and 38pc in Punjab. Sindh and Balochistan have the lowest 33pc compliance.

He said students above 18 years of age, the people working in the transport sector, public sector employees, personnel of law enforcement agencies and staff working at hotels, restaurants, wedding halls, shopping malls and banks would have to get inoculated by Aug 31. Teachers will have to get them vaccinated by Aug 1 to continue working in educational institutions.

Murtaza Wahab, the spokesman for the Sindh government, while talking to Dawn, was not sure about imposition of complete lockdown in Karachi but said it would be “something like that.” However, he ruled out any consideration of the NCOC’s (Asad Umar) advice saying the provincial government was not bound to follow the federal body’s line.

“But at the same time we want political unanimity,” Mr Wahab said when asked about the possible decision of a meeting of the Sindh Task Force on Coronavirus scheduled for Friday (today).

“Whatever the issue, the PTI government and party leaders have history of criticising the Sindh government. We don’t want to create such a situation this time when our prime challenge is to contain spread of the coronavirus and save lives of the people. The Sindh government is determined to give priority to people’s health and lives. The decision would be made in tomorrow’s meeting and I am not sure what it would be. But whatever would be best for this objective, we would go for that.”

Reuters adds: Besides, the government announced on Thursday that Pakistan would ban air travel for anyone without a Covid-19 vaccine certificate from Aug 1.

From Aug 1, unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to enter government offices, schools, restaurants and shopping malls, said Asad Umar, who heads the NCOC, a military-run body that oversees the pandemic response, at a joint news conference with the health minister in Islamabad.

Pakistan has seen coronavirus infections soar, dominated by Delta variant, and its poor health infrastructure is under extreme pressure.

The national positive test rate for Covid-19 stands at 7.53 per cent, according to the NCOC. The rate in Karachi touched 23pc in recent weeks.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2021

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