Sindh put under lockdown as COVID spread goes wild

-Karachi to be the focus during Sindh’s partial lockdown
-Vaccination cards of citizens roaming the streets will be checked
-Doctors warn of terrifying situation
-Exams postponed, takeaways banned
-All govt offices will be closed from next week
-Over 4,500 cases reported countrywide, highest since April 30

From Zeeshan Mirza

KARACHI: The Sindh government on Friday decided to impose a lockdown in the province from Saturday (today) till August 8 amid rising Covid-19 cases.
Key decisions: There will be a ban on inter-city travel. All markets will remain closed, however, pharmacies and groceries (till 6pm) will remain open. Restaurants will only be allowed to deliver food. No takeaway allowed. Exams cancelled during lockdown period. No restriction on movement of citizens. Vaccination cards of citizens roaming the streets will be checked. Vaccination centres to remain open during lockdown.
All govt offices will be closed from next week.
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.
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 private offices have 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 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.
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”.
Earlier, while addressing the task force meeting, 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.