Lockdown to go off partially from 9th

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-Shops, markets to open five-day a week, malls to remain closed
-Educational institutions not to open before 15th July
-Domestic flight operations to stay suspended till 10th

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Thursday announced partial lifting of countrywide lockdown from Saturday to allow economic activity with strict adherence to precautionary measures by the people.
“We have decided to partially open the lockdown on Saturday just to facilitate the daily wagers and small businesses. We have to open the lockdown with great prudence. The success of this phase is linked with public cooperation and discipline,” the prime minister said in his televised briefing following the meeting of National Coordination Committee (NCC) on COVID-19 chaired by him.
The meeting was attended by ministers for foreign affairs, economic affairs, information and broadcasting, federal education, aviation, industries and railway, advisors to the PM on finance and commerce, special assistants to the PM on health, information, overseas Pakistanis and social safety, and the National Disaster Management Authority chairman. The provincial chief ministers also joined the high level meeting through video link.
Among the major decisions made by the committee included reopening of small markets in localities and rural areas, allowing businesses to open after Sehri till 17:00 hours, opening of selective OPDs (outdoor patient departments) at hospitals and closure of educational institutions till July 15, 2020. Besides the prime minister, the cabinet members briefed the media about the decisions made in the meeting concerning their respective sectors.
The prime minister said the state’s biggest responsibility was to protect the poor people particularly in the prevailing tough situation. Even, the New York had decided to open up the construction industry despite having faced thousands of deaths due to COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
He, however, repeatedly advised the people to take all precautions at their workplaces and elsewhere to ensure their own protection and avert any sudden spike in the coronavirus cases.
“We can overcome it only as a nation. We will not ask the police to enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) by force and arrest the violators. I ask the Corona Tiger Force to make the people understand that this is in their own benefit… If it spikes suddenly, we will have to close down again which will ultimately make the poor suffer,” the prime minister remarked. The prime minister said though the curve of COVID-19 cases was surging in Pakistan, the ratio was not as alarming as in other countries and for that the people must thank Allah Almighty during the holy month of Ramazan.
He was accompanied by his team members including Planning Minister Asad Umar, Industries Minister Hammad Azhar, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood, National Security Advisor Moeed Yousuf and SAPM Sania Nishtar.
Imran Khan said being a responsible nation, the people must not let the poor face the burden of the crisis alone rather share it collectively.
“This is time we act as responsible citizens and follow the SOPs. The countries releasing lockdown, have also announced some guidelines to be followed by the people.”
He said the government had already announced unprecedented relief packages for the construction industry as well as poor and unemployed people but it could not keep it up for long owing to already not-so-good economic condition of the country. The prime minister said the government had spent its revenue on relief packages and facing 35 percent reduction in tax receipts besides decline in exports.
He said though the government’s relief package was far better than that of India yet it could not financially support every individual for long. The government was receiving requests from restaurants and other sectors for opening as they were unable to bear any more loss.
He said the government had remarkably reduced oil prices bringing it to the lowest in the sub continent which would also help reduce the burden on the people.
He said soon after reporting of first coronavirus case in Pakistan, the government had announced lockdown across the country, closing all educational institutions and businesses to contain the swift-spreading of the virus.
But, the prime minister said he always feared the fallout of the lockdown on the daily wagers and the people associated with the informal economy.
He said after weeks long deliberations among the centre and provinces, the NCC decided to release the lockdown witnessing that the country was so far safe from West-like peak of the pandemic.
He said the government had already opened the construction industry in April and as per commitment, it had now decided to open the allied industries too.
He said the provinces were unwilling to open the public transport but contrarily, he desired so for it to be used by the poor people. He however, asked NCC to keep up coordinating with the provinces on the subject to help it revive.
Moreover, the prime minister said around 125,000 Pakistanis were stranded abroad because the country lacked quarantine facility. He said the federal government was in talk with the provinces to allow self-quarantine to such people at their homes in what the federating units had apprehensions of any breakout if the people showed any negligence.
He said if allowed self-quarantine, it would be people’s responsibility to follow the guidelines to ensure protection of others particularly the elderly family members.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced that the nationwide lockdown will be lifted in phases starting from Saturday (May 9).
The announcement came as Sindh and Punjab both crossed 9,000 cases on Thursday and reported their highest daily death tolls. Punjab reported 26 deaths, the highest single-day total of any province so far, while Sindh reported 14 deaths. The total number of deaths countrywide have reached 585, registering a 100 per cent increase over the last 10 days.
“We know that we’re doing it at a time when our curve is going up […] but it is not edging up as we were expecting,” said the prime minister in a televised address alongside his aides after a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) in Islamabad. He warned that the restrictions could be restored anytime if the outbreak worsens.
Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said six major decisions have been taken by the government:
More sectors related to construction will be opened
Selected OPDs will be opened to treat specific diseases and illnesses
Markets will open after sehri but close at 5pm
Markets will remain closed for two days per week
Small markets will also be allowed to open
Schools to remain shut until July 15
“Earlier, we had decided to reopen our construction industry. Now we have decided to reopen more sectors related to the industry,” Umar stated, as he explained that earlier decision to give permission to bigger markets to reopen will now be expanded to cover smaller markets as well.
Big shopping malls and other spaces which attract big crowds, however, would remain closed for now. Umar said that the government deliberated opening markets after iftar but ended up deciding that markets should not open at night.
“Markets will open after sehri but they will have to close at 5pm,” Umar said.
“Markets will remain closed two days a week. Our police officials need a much-needed respite [from enforcing lockdown measures].” Umar added that OPDs in hospitals, which were shut during the lockdown, will now reopen in “selected and reserved” hospitals across the country. ‘Take responsibility,’ PM urges people
Prime Minister Imran said that the decision to lift the lockdown was taken “because our people are suffering”, adding that everyone — from labourers, daily wage workers, rickshaw drivers to middle class families — was struggling financially due to the lockdown.
While acknowledging that the government has launched Ehsaas emergency cash programme — the most “expansive and generous” social welfare programme in the country’s history — the prime minister noted that due to dwindling revenues, it was not possible for the government to keep its welfare services liquid for “much long”. Prime Minister Imran urged people to take responsibility once the lockdown is lifted, arguing that the success of the next phase depends on people following the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the government.