Sindh eases restrictions after backlash

Published August 1, 2021
KARACHI: Light traffic moves along a road on Saturday due to a partial lockdown aimed to help control the spread of the coronavirus 
in the city.—AP
KARACHI: Light traffic moves along a road on Saturday due to a partial lockdown aimed to help control the spread of the coronavirus in the city.—AP

• Centre rebukes PPP govt for closing down industries
• Record vaccinations for a fifth consecutive day

KARACHI: In a move to ease the life of the common man, the Sindh government on Saturday took a step back by revising the partial restrictions amid strong criticism from the Centre and traders associations a day after imposing them.

The provincial government lifted the ban on pillion riding, allowed small transport to ply within the limits of Karachi and exempted certain businesses from time restrictions.

However, the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government brushed aside criticism against the partial restrictions for nine days and sought cooperation even from arch political rivals, with an appeal to the people to get themselves vaccinated against Covid-19 at the earliest.

The provincial government spokesman and adviser to the chief minister, Barrister Murtaza Wahab, said that during the nine-day lockdown “we want people to come out of their homes only to get vaccinated. We don’t want to disturb anyone’s life. It’s for your own good, your health, your future and your loved ones. Everyone has to contribute and do it fast. We are running out of time”. He said the entire focus was to get maximum number of people vaccinated at the earliest. “This is the reason that pushed the Sindh government to allow certain transport and vehicle so that people reach vaccination centres,” he said.

He announced resumption of small public transport, including taxis, rickshaws and qingqis, to facilitate public visits to vaccination centres in their respective areas. However, he said, restriction on other public transport vehicles such as buses, minibuses and passenger coaches was not being lifted. Only those on the route of vaccination centres would be allowed to come on roads, he added. Besides, he said milk shops, bakeries and carriage vehicles for dairy products were exempted from the time restriction.

“We are not doing politics,” said Barrister Wahab. “And [we] humbly request others [political parties] that please keep this politics aside for next few days. We appreciate every step taken by any government or party for the people’s live and health. We appreciated the MQM [Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan] when they postponed their rally in Hyderabad while following Covid-19 restrictions. We need this gesture. We need unanimity.”

Replying to a question, the spokesperson said the Sindh government’s proposal to suspend cellular service connection of the unvaccinated subscribers worked in that it attracted massive response from the people. “Only during last 24 hours, 185,000 people were vaccinated in Sindh,” he reasoned.

‘NCOC bypassed’

While speaking to reporters in Lahore, federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said no provincial government could take unilateral decisions and bypass the orders of the federal government and the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) [for containing the coronavirus spread].

He said: “The way Sindh government is trying to impose restrictions, it will only add to plights of common man. The province is the jugular vein of Pakistan’s economy and when it is improving, you are talking about imposing a lockdown.” He asked the Sindh government to “immediately” open industries.

While terming the provincial government’s decision “inappropriate”, Mr Chaudhry mentioned Articles 149 and 151 of the Constitution and said a decision of the Supreme Court was also very clear on it. “You cannot take unilateral decisions on the matter. You cannot neglect the strategy of federal government. All your plans should be devised after approval of the NCOC and under the guidelines of the federal government,” he said.

Also, State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib rebuked the Sindh government over its decision to impose partial lockdown to contain virus. The state minister tweeted: “Sindh government has repeated such mistake earlier too. Intoxicated with power, those at the helm of affairs in Sindh are not concerned about the difficulties daily wage earners face.” In another tweet, he said: “[Pakistan] Peoples Party-led Sindh government is targeting industries and the livelihood of common man by closing them down due to its bad governance. Sindh is far behind others in enforcing SOPs.” Mr Habib said the NCOC be given due importance for formulation of decisions to tackle the coronavirus pandemic at the national level.

Asad Umar, the federal minister for planning and development who heads the NCOC, tweeted that no one should doubt that the NCOC was a national platform whose decisions were not influenced by politics, asserting “all decisions are made solely for the betterment of the nation”.

He expressed the hope that at the next NCOC meeting the Sindh government would consult in detail on all related issues and formulate a strategy in which all the pillars of the state work together to protect the health and livelihoods of the people.

He said Pakistan achieved a record daily Covid-19 vaccination milestone with more than 900,000 jabs administered in a single day. The country achieved a record number of vaccinations for a fifth consecutive day, he added.

“Vaccination records continue to be set daily. 5th straight day record vaccinations carried out. Yesterday the vaccination number crossed 9 lakh for the first time. 2,600 vaccination centres and 2,979 mobile units operating across Pakistan, to make this massive campaign possible,” he said in a tweet.

In a reference to the restrictions imposed in Sindh, the NCOC on Saturday announced that the federally administered sectors would continue to operate as per standard operating procedures (SOPs) as Sindh government imposed restrictions on various sectors to avoid further spread of the virus. “Flight operations will continue as usual in accordance with pre-determined SOPs. Railways will continue its operation with 70 per cent passengers,” it decided.

However, it also directed instructions to minimize the number of staff in federally administered offices and perform their duties as per Covid-19 SOPs. Pakistan Stock Exchange and related services would continue to operate as usual, the NCOC announced.

According to NCOC data, 4,950 fresh infections were recorded over the last 24 hours after 58,479 Covid-19 tests were conducted across the country. The NCOC said Covid-19 positivity rate jumped to 8.46 percent, while 65 more people lost their lives to the disease in the past one day. The NCOC put the number of active cases in the country as 66,287.

Meanwhile, the NCOC had held a special session to work out arrangements for the month of Muharram where religious scholars from all schools of thought agreed to observe the holy month under strict SOPs.

To chalk out a plan for Muharram, Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Pir Noorul Haq Qadri chaired the meeting that was attended by religious scholars from Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, while those from other provinces joined the meeting through a video link. All the participants in the forum agreed that Muharram would be observed with devotion and respect under strict Covid-related SOPs.

Aamir Yasin in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2021

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