• Restrictions to remain in force till Aug 31
• Indoor dining banned, work-from-home policy introduced
• No decision on educational institutions
• More Covid vaccines arrive
• Sindh already under tighter lockdown

ISLAMABAD: As the fourth Covid-19 wave continues to rage in the country, the government on Monday reimposed restrictions in several cities to stem the spread of the Delta strain.

In another development, more Cansino doses reached Pakistan on Monday whereas a shipment of Sinopharm vaccine is set to arrive in the next 24 hours.

Under the new curbs, the closing time of markets has been revised from 10pm to 8pm, indoor dining has been banned while outdoor dining permitted till 10pm, 50 per cent work-from-home policy and 50pc occupancy in public transport has been reintroduced and a two-day market closure would be observed.

These decisions were taken at a meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“The government has decided to reimpose restrictions in a number of cities as the fourth wave continues to worsen,” said Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar at a press conference after the meeting.

However, the meeting did not take any decision about educational institutions and the examinations of some classes being held at the board level.

The new restrictions — which will remain in force from Aug 3 to Aug 31 — will be applicable in Rawalpindi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan in the Punjab; Peshawar and Abbottabad in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh (after the current partial lockdown ends on Aug 8); Islamabad; Muzaffarabad and Mirpur in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit and Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

Flanked by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan, the minister said the government took the “targeted and staggered” decisions after much thought and deliberations. “However, during restrictions, people’s livelihood and health will be taken care of,” he added.

Mr Umar said markets in selected cities would now close at 8pm instead of 10pm, with a two-day closure in a week.

“Provinces will decide about the weekly off days,” he added.

The minister said the government had allowed indoor dining for vaccinated people, but poor compliance was observed by restaurants, adding that it was also not possible for the local administration to check every eatery.

“Therefore, no indoor dining would be allowed from now onwards,” Mr Umar said.

Expressing fear over the rapid transmission of the virus, the minister said Covid-19 cases were on the rise for the last few weeks at an alarming rate and had increased the load of patients on hospitals.

About indoor dining, Asad Umar said permission had been given to those who were vaccinated, but the order was not followed and implementation was very weak.

Besides, city administrations were of the view that it was not possible to check compliance of the directive in restaurants, leaving the government with no choice but to ban indoor dining, he added.

The new curbs come after the Sindh government enforced a province-wide partial lockdown from July 31 to Aug 8 in the wake of increasing coronavirus cases.

The country reported 5,026 cases on Sunday — the highest number since April 29 when 5,112 patients were found infected.

The latest surge has been blamed on the Delta variant as well as the lax attitude of people towards precautionary measures.

The minister said 50 per cent staff attendance would be allowed in public and private offices while the remaining employees would work from home.

Indirectly referring to Sindh’s lockdown decision, Asad Umar said: “From the very beginning of the outbreak, the prime minister had opposed complete lockdown, which was why a smart lockdown policy was devised on his directions.

“This policy remained successful during the first three waves, therefore a similar approach would be adopted in the current wave as well,” he added.

The minister said a significant segment of the population comprised daily-wage workers who could not afford a complete shutdown.

“Therefore in order to safeguard their livelihood and also save their lives, the government has opted for a balanced and targeted lockdown strategy,” he said.

Mr Umar once again urged people to get inoculated as early as possible to protect themselves from the Indian strain.

“According to data, those who have received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine were three times safer than those who remained unvaccinated while those having received both doses were three times safer than the ones who got the first jab,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) President Dr Ashraf Nizami supported the curbs introduced in Sindh, saying this was the only way to bring down cases and break the virus chain.

The Sindh government had announced lockdown in the province as the positivity rate surpassed the figure of 30pc.

The provincial task force also decided that unvaccinated people would not receive their salaries after Aug 31 and the police would check vaccination certificates on roads.

The federal government, on the other hand, criticised the provincial government’s decision, claiming that it would have an economic impact.

Moreover it was suggested that the province should not make such decisions without taking the NCOC into confidence.

Meanwhile, according to the forum’s data, positivity rate in Karachi city was recorded at 20.11pc, with 1,823 people getting infected in a single day compared to over 2,000 cases reported last week. Similarly Hyderabad’s infection rate was calculated at 13.28pc.

After Karachi, the highest rate was reported in Muzaffarabad, which was calculated at 17.45pc compared to 13pc last week. The third most infectious city was Peshawar, having an infection rate of 15.42pc compared to 11.5pc last week.

Talking to Dawn, Dr Nizami said he supported the decision of the Sindh government as cases would have increased further.

“We had suggested the Punjab government to do the same during the previous wave, but it disagreed with us. We fully support restrictions otherwise the situation can get out of control,” he added.

Meanwhile, the NCOC data showed that 40 patients succumbed to the virus and 4,858 more tested positive during the last 24 hours.

The number of active cases was recorded at 73,213 as of Aug 2, with 8.61 national positivity ratio.

On the other hand, the NHS ministry spokesperson, Sajid Shah, said 165,000 doses of Cansino vaccine had reached Pakistan on Monday while two million doses of Sinopharm would arrive in the next 24 hours.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2021

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