NCOC relaxes COVID curbs

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-Allows staggered reopening of educational institutes, outdoor dining from May 24
-Tourism sector also given green signal
– All metric and intermediate exams will be held after June 20

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai

ISLAMABAD: The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Wednesday announced the lifting of a number of restrictions imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus in the country, including the staggered reopening of educational institutions in districts where the positivity rate is less than five per cent and resumption of outdoor dining.
Earlier in the day, the NCOC reviewed the existing non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) in a meeting chaired by Minister for Planning and Development and NCOC head Asad Umar.
The meeting was also attended by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health (SAPM) Dr Faisal Sultan, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho as well as all the chief secretaries of all provinces, Islamabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.
According to a press release issued after the meeting:
• Outdoor restaurants will be opened daily till 11:59pm while takeaway will be allowed 24/7 from May 24.
• Tourism sector will be reopened under strict Covid-19 protocols from May 24.
• Educational institutes in districts with less than five per cent positivity rate will be reopened from May 24.
• Outdoor marriage ceremonies will be allowed with a maximum of 150 people from June 1.
• Elective surgeries will be reopened from June 1.
• Educational institutes in all districts will be reopened in a staggered manner from June 7.
• All metric and intermediate exams will be held after June 20.
All professional and non-professional exams will take place on a case-to-case basis as recommended by the Ministry of Education.
However, certain restrictions will remain in place. These are:
• All shrines, cinemas, amusement parks and indoor gyms will remain closed. Tracks for walking and jogging will be allowed to remain open with strict adherence to SOPs.
• Indoor dining will remain closed.
• All contact sports, festivals, cultural, musical and other events will be banned.
• All types of indoor and outdoor gatherings, including religious events will be banned.
• Inter-provincial public transport will remain suspended on the weekends from May 22.
In its meeting, the NCOC also decided to reopen the Gadani and Misri Shah industries from May 20. The forum urged compliance on wearing masks and said broader lockdowns would be implemented with stringent enforcement protocols based on risk assessment.
Meanwhile, the current policies for inbound travel and Land Border Management would continue, the release stated. The NCOC said a detailed review of the NPIs would be held on May 27 and June 7, adding that monitoring of disease prevalence and critical healthcare system was being carried out daily. “Necessary steps will be taken accordingly, whenever deemed appropriate to control the disease spread,” the forum said.
Earlier Wednesday, Umar cautioned that while restrictions were being relaxed, there were still 4,500 Covid-19 patients in hospitals on oxygen. “If we immediately try to open a lot of things then God forbid, [it might happen] that we have to close everything again as we saw in the region.”
He made the comments while speaking to the media after inaugurating a mass vaccination centre in Islamabad. “We have to reach our vaccination targets,” stressed the minister, adding that the quicker Pakistanis got themselves vaccinated, the sooner it would be possible for the government to lift restrictions and for “us to go towards the normal conditions that we want”.
Umar said very “frightening scenes” had been witnessed in the region which were previously seen in Europe and the United States and thanked the people and administrative teams, police, district administrations and the NCOC team for working during the Eidul Fitr holidays.