Today's Paper | September 22, 2021

Updated 31 Jul, 2021 01:57am

Karachi to be the focus during Sindh's 'partial lockdown' until August 8


The Sindh government on Friday decided to impose a lockdown in the province from tomorrow (Saturday) till August 8 amid rising Covid-19 cases.

Key decisions

The decision was taken during a provincial coronavirus task force meeting presided over by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah.

According to a handout issued by the CM's office, restrictions will remain in place till August 8. However, businesses associated with the export sector will be allowed to operate.

There will be a ban on inter-city travel and all markets will remain closed. Pharmacies, however, will remain open.

Addressing a press conference to detail the decisions, Chief Minister Shah said due to the decisions taken by the provincial task force, Sindh was able to tackle the first, second and third waves of Covid-19 relatively better than other provinces. "But in this fourth wave, the Delta variant is the main concern," he added.

See: Unvaccinated individuals make up more than 85pc of patients admitted to ICUs in Karachi

He noted that Karachi was the most affected city now, saying the virus spread fast in closed spaces and cases would multiply if measures were not taken to curb it.

"Just a month ago, there were an average of 500 cases daily in Sindh by the end of June. And now by July's end, the number of daily cases has increased to 3,000," he said.

Shah revealed that after the task force meeting, he had informed federal minister Asad Umar and SAPM Dr Faisal Sultan about its decisions, and "they assured us of helping us in implementing these decisions."

"This is not a complete lockdown. This is a partial lockdown," he said, noting that complete lockdown was the one that had been imposed last year on March 20.

The chief minister appealed to the people to help the government successfully implement its decisions, saying "we will move towards reopening" from August 9.

"If you help us, we will be able to contain the spread of this disease. People are asking what will happen after August 8. We have to take measures so that our hospital facilities are not choked."

Citing increased travelling during Eid holidays, Shah said the Covid-19 positivity ratio which was 1pc at many places had now jumped to 6pc in 4-5 days. "It is necessary to take effective measures to break this virus chain," he stressed.

He shared a three-pronged approach to contain the virus:

1- Prevent its spread by social distancing, following SOPs and imposing lockdown

2- Improving hospital facilities. "We need to make more interventions to ease the burden on hospitals," he said.

3- Vaccination. "In this lockdown, we will ensure that vaccination does not suffer in its wake," Shah added.

The chief minister said small transport would remain operational so that people did not face difficulties, while the government "will also look into major transport".

"We all have to ensure that retail business remains closed, as that will keep people indoors," he said, adding that almost all government offices would remain closed for the next nine days, with the exception of essential departments like gas, electricity and water.

He further said he had approached the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs to make the Sindh Assembly session online for women.

Health and medical-related facilities will remain functional, as will food-related industries and export-oriented industries. Meanwhile, "banks are a federal subject and we will write to the centre to open banks with limited staff," the chief minister told the presser.

Courts will also continue to operate and the Pakistan Stock Exchange will be advised to continue business with limited staff. Groceries, bakeries, and meat and vegetable shops will remain open till 6pm.

According to Shah, petrol pumps, all utility companies and municipal services will remain open, while media persons will be allowed outdoors with face masks.

Restaurants will be allowed to only deliver food, while takeaway will not be permitted.

There will be no examinations from Monday to Friday and boards will devise a new schedule for the postponed exams. Private offices have also been advised to not operate during lockdown days.

Further details will be issued soon, Chief Minister Shah said, adding that "apart from the aforementioned [sectors], everything else will remain closed."

Shah said people belonging to different sectors claimed that the rising infections were not a concern at their end. "But we have to make some sacrifices," he added.

He also stated that Sindh was not unique in people not adhering to Covid-19 health guidelines.

"There was talk of SOPs not being followed in Sindh. But I strongly disagree with it. Yes, SOPs are not being followed here but the same is the case with all other places as well," he said.

He urged everyone to follow the SOPs and get themselves vaccinated, saying while the virus would not end after nine days, the government would not have to go towards a lockdown if people adhered to the health advice.

Shah shared that ulema had suggested to him that vaccination centres should also be set up in mosques and imambargahs.

He said the decisions taken today were made in consultation with doctors, adding that health experts had presented a worsening Covid-19 situation during the last two meetings and warned that "our last line of defence will fall if drastic measures are not taken".

"I told people of political parties that we will get other occasions to argue with each other, but let's cooperate on this issue," he said.

The chief minister said the decisions were being notified after consulting the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), while Umar had assured the Sindh government of the army's help. He said he would ask ministers to check lockdown implementation in major districts.

Once again requesting public cooperation, Shah said the government would move to other cities with measures to curb the virus as well "but Karachi is suffering the most".

"Around three months ago, there was a virtual curfew in Lahore and no one raised any objection about it. And you saw the results of it," he remarked.

The chief minister said now was the time to take "practical steps" and that lip service would not serve any purpose. "Yes, we made mistakes by not taking steps early. I admit that. Now I want your cooperation," he told the public.

Shah said "misleading pictures" had been used to show people dying from hunger, but added that there was no veracity in those claims. "It's not in my knowledge that someone died of hunger during the coronavirus lockdown," he said.

Talking about the lockdown duration, he said it was decided to limit it to nine days instead of 15 days to prevent economic loss.

"I said it will be desirable if we and the federal government are able to keep people in lockdown without pushing them into difficulties. Finally we decided to impose this five-day lockdown (aside from the weekend) and doctors said it is better than nothing," Shah explained.

He said the partial lockdown would serve as a "speed breaker" and it was hoped that people would follow the SOPs when the restrictions were ended.

Answering a question, Shah said the lockdown order applied to the entire Sindh, "but our focus will be on Karachi because the city is facing a serious situation".

Asked about the concern that police will exploit people not possessing the vaccination card when they go out, the chief minister said: "Why are you benefitting them? This is a matter of just nine days. We will try to ensure no one exploits this situation. But you shouldn't give them a chance either."

Shah said he did not intend to spread fear, "but if somebody violates the SOPs, the security forces will deal with that accordingly".

When approached for further clarification, the Sindh chief secretary's spokesperson Farhat Imtiaz told Dawn.com that law-enforcement officers were empowered under the Sindh Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, to act against anyone found to be violating the orders regarding Covid-19 restrictions.

The restrictions

An order issued by the Sindh Home Department said the provincial government "is satisfied that it has become imminent to prevent mixing/gathering/meeting of people by taking appropriate measures in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 and therefore complete ban is imposed on the movement — intra-city and inter-city — in public or private transport, and the gathering of people for any purpose — social, religious, customary, business, sports, entertainment, recreation, education, training, coaching, examination or for any other purpose — at any place, public or private, including offices".

The notification listed the following restrictions:

General directions:

Key exemptions:

'Vaccination cards to be checked'

Earlier, while addressing the task force meeting, Chief Minister Shah said that the vaccination cards of citizens roaming the streets would be checked during the lockdown and all government offices would be closed from next week.

He warned that unvaccinated government employees would not be issued salaries after August 31.

The decisions come a day after federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar rejected the idea of closing down entire cities to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Umar, who is also the head of the NCOC, said on Thursday that Pakistan should pursue smart lockdowns, a strategy which had succeeded in the past.

However, earlier today the NCOC announced that that the forum "critically reviewed" the disease spread in Karachi and decided to take all possible measures to assist the provincial government in combatting the rise in cases.

"The measures being undertaken by the federal government include ramping up critical care capacity, including oxygenated beds and vents, availability of oxygen and deployment of law enforcement agencies for implementation of SOPs and non-pharmaceutical interventions," the forum said.

‘Situation could turn terrifying'

Doctors attending today's meeting warned participants that the Covid-19 situation in the province could turn "terrifying” and sounded alarm over the increasing pressure on hospitals as well as the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant as cases continue to rise after Eidul Azha.

Sindh Health Secretary Dr Kazim Jatoi informed the meeting that a positivity rate of 13.7 per cent was recorded in the province, while 39,958 active cases had been reported as of Friday. He said 1,410 of the patients were admitted to hospitals, 1,192 were critically ill and 102 were on ventilators.

The health secretary said that the positivity rate in Karachi during the last 24 hours was 23pc, 14.52pc in Hyderabad and 2.9pc in Sukkur.

The chief minister said that in Karachi, the highest positivity rate was recorded in East district at 33pc, followed by 21pc in Korangi district and 19pc in West district.

South and Malir districts reported a positivity rate of 17pc each, he said.

The meeting was also told that 469 Covid-19 patients had died in Karachi during the last 29 days, of which 323 had been on ventilators while 50 died at their homes.

Pakistan reports more than 4,500 Covid cases, highest since April 30

The more transmissible Delta variant — first detected in India — is believed to be responsible for the country's fourth Covid-19 wave.

The variant, scientists say, has features that allow it to evade some of the body’s immune system defences. Plus, it has the highest transmissibility of any variant so far.

On Friday, Pakistan recorded its biggest daily increase in Covid-19 cases since April 30, when 4,745 cases were reported in the country.

As many as 4,537 infections were reported against 58,203 tests over the past 24 hours, according to the NCOC. This is also the third consecutive day that the country has reported over 4,000 cases. The total number of cases in the country is 1,024,861.

Further, 86 coronavirus-related deaths were also reported during this period, taking the total to 23,295.

Earlier this week, President Arif Alvi had sounded alarm over the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases and had urged citizens to "get serious".

"Cases have shot up post-Eid. I was expecting and warning about it as I saw carelessness in [the] streets, bazaars, [and at] weddings and mosques," he had said, calling upon the people to "pull their act together" and follow SOPs.

He had also urged Pakistanis to get vaccinated. "Don't let the recent gains towards stability [be] sacrificed on the alter of neglect. You are a rising nation, so the important test is to 'rise to the occasion'," he had said.

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