-Nearly 1,800 new cases take tally past 27,000 as lockdown easing measures about to take effect
-Provinces unveils sectoral SOPs to re-open small businesses
By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai
ISLAMABAD: The day Prime Minister Imran Khan announced to ease lockdown restrictions in the country, 1,764 new cases were recorded with 35 fatalities, according to an update by the central authority tracking the spread of the virus.
This was the highest jump recorded in a single day. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country has soared to 25,837 after the new infections. Of these, 9,691 were reported in Sindh, 10,033 in Punjab, 4,327 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1,873 in Balochistan, 558 in Islamabad, 394 in Gilgit-Baltistan, and 78 in Azad Kashmir.
Meanwhile, 1,066 patients also recovered from the virus the same day, taking the total number of recoveries in the country to 7,530. PM Imran had on Thursday said the government has decided to ease the lockdown in Pakistan given the impact it has had on the economy.
Speaking after a meeting of National Coordination Committee (NCC), which is the apex coronavirus decision-making body and comprises top civil and military leaders, including the provincial chief executives, PM Imran said the country would be opened “in a phased manner from Saturday”.
“It is now the responsibility of the masses to follow the rules; otherwise, we will be forced to reverse the decision. I was in favour of allowing public transport but the provinces did not agree to it.
“It has therefore been decided that the provinces will make their own standard operating procedures (SOPs) and share [them] with the Centre.” The nationwide tally of Covid-19 patients stands at 26,806 with 10,033 cases in Punjab, 9,691 in Sindh, 4,327 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 1,725 in Balochistan, 394 in Gilgit-Baltistan, 558 in Islamabad and 78 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The virus has claimed at least 611 lives while at least 7,530 coronavirus patients have recovered.
The governments of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan on Friday announced the partial easing of lockdown measures imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, even as the number of infections in the country registered a record daily increase. On Thursday, Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced the lifting of the countrywide lockdown in phases from Saturday by reopening all construction-related industries and shopping centres for five days a week from Fajr (early morning) till 5pm and outpatient departments (OPDs) in hospitals.
The premier, who had announced the decision after a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) attended by the chief ministers of the four provinces, had acknowledged that the lockdown was being eased “at a time when our curve is going up” but maintained that “it is not edging up as we were expecting.”
The trend continued on Friday, with the country recording 1,807 cases of Covid-19 from the three provinces of Punjab, Sindh and KP alone, and the national tally nearing 27,000. It is the highest daily increase in the number of infections since Pakistan confirmed its first case on February 26.
A notification issued by the KP relief department said businesses associated with the construction industry will be exempt from closure subject to them following the standard operating procedures (SOPs) already issued for industrial units and sale points. Businesses of steel and PVC pipes, electric appliances, manufacturers of steel and aluminium equipment, ceramic and paint industries, sanitary, paints, steel and aluminium works, and hardware stores will be allowed to open four days a week, not later than 4:00pm. They will remain closed on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. KP relief department notification. All factories which are not included in the negative lists of factories will also be allowed to resume operations.
According to the notification, all shops will be allowed to remain open for four days a week and not later than 4:00pm, subject to their implementation of the government’s SOPs.
Meanwhile, Adviser to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister on information, Ajmal Wazir, told a press conference in Peshawar that educational institutions in the province will reopen as per the federal government’s instructions and the province will not take an independent decision in this regard.
Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan said that the provincial government will submit a recommendation to the Centre for not lifting the lockdown in the province’s major cities. Speaking to reporters in Lahore, he said: “We have seen that there is a hype about coronavirus in some big cities. Therefore, we are submitting this recommendation to the federal government and if it is approved, then the lockdown and standard operating procedures will remain in big cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan and Gujranwala.”
He added that higher secondary board examinations in Punjab will be cancelled and students will be promoted based on last year’s grades. Schools will reopen on July 15. As per the federal government’s decision, OPDs in the province will open from May 9, Chohan said.
He added that the SOPs for congregational and Taraweeh prayers in mosques as announced by President Arif Alvi will remain in place. The first session of the Punjab Assembly since the pandemic began was also to be held today.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah told a press conference in Karachi that under “phase two” of the easing of the restrictions, businesses linked to construction industries will be allowed to open while observing the preventive guidelines. Selective OPDs will also be allowed to resume services.
Industries will no longer be required to submit an application to resume operations; however, they will have to submit an undertaking and forward the details of their employees to the government. Shops will be allowed to open after sehri (dawn) and will be required to close at 5pm. They will remain closed on Saturdays and Sundays which will be “safe days with 100 per cent lockdown”, the chief minister said.
The businesses permitted to resume from Monday include shops in rural areas and neighbourhood shops situated in residential localities, excluding large market places.
Shah said marriage halls, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants in the province will remain closed and there will be no congregations or sports events either. “These guidelines will remain applicable until May 31. This is what the federal government has outlined and we are ready to comply with these directives,” he said. Referring to the increase in Covid-19 infections, he added: “I am seeing the rise in cases, but for national integrity and uniform policy we are going along.”
In Balochistan, a meeting chaired by CM Jam Kamal Khan approved the move to turn the lockdown imposed in the province into a ‘smart lockdown’, under which restrictions are enforced in virus hotspots only, according to Balochistan government spokesperson Liaquat Shahwani. He announced that markets will be allowed to open from 3am till 5 in the evening. Shopkeepers and traders will be bound to implement SOPs for precautionary measures while legal action will be taken against the violators, Shahwani said in a tweet.