Monday May 20, 2024

PM Imran Khan defers lockdown, seeks Pak Army's help in enforcing COVID-19 SOPs

Schools in cities with positivity ratio above 5% to be closed; outdoor dining banned, office timings restricted to 2pm

By Web Desk
April 23, 2021

Prime Minister Imran Khan. File photo

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday deferred imposing a broad lockdown and sought help from the Pakistan Army in the enforcement of coronavirus SOPs.

He once again appealed to the masses to follow protocols, "else we will be facing the same situation India currently is in," he warned. 

“The situation is changing very fast and we might have to impose a lockdown in the days to come, which would be devastating for the economy and the poor.”

A meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) was held today with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair to review the prevailing coronavirus situation in the country and take a decision on imposing lockdown in cities with a high positivity ratio.

The session was attended by the chief ministers, ministers and chief secretaries of the provinces, who reviewed the latest COVID-19 numbers and decided to impose further restrictions as the third wave of coronavirus wreaks havoc in Pakistan.

“The government has expanded the capacity of hospitals during the past year. Had we not increased the facilities we might be facing a very bad situation,” the prime minister said.

He said that if we strictly follow SOPs till Eid, we may not need to take the extreme steps India has been taking.

PM Imran also asked the ulema to play their role in creating awareness, like they had last Ramadan.

“Today, people are asking me to impose a lockdown, but we are not taking such an extreme step for now. I am more concerned about the poor and daily wagers,” the PM explained.

New restrictions

Briefing the media about the decisions taken by the NCC, Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar said a comprehensive plan will be prepared in consultation with the provinces in case lockdowns become necessary in certain cities.

“All schools will be closed in cities where the positivity ratio is above 5% till Eid. Classes 9-12 will also not be held in-person,” he said.

He further said that outdoor dining is also being banned till Eid and only takeaway is allowed.

Indoor gyms have also been ordered to close down under the new restrictions.

Asad Umar said that markets will be closed by 6pm except for essential services and a list will be issued of those businesses that are allowed to operate.

The federal minister said that a decision has also been taken to restrict office timings till 2pm so that people can do Eid shopping easily within the time limits set by the government.

"The 50% work from home policy will continue," he added.

He also urged the masses to not wait for the last three days of Ramadan for Eid shopping so as to avoid a rush in marketplaces.

Regarding air travel restrictions, Asad Umar said a detailed policy is being made under which the number of passengers coming to Pakistan will be cut down. 

“[Matters relating to]  passengers’ testing and quarantine will also be decided,” he said.

Pakistan, the minister said, is utilizing 90% of the oxygen already being produced, so the government is working to enhance capacity and will import the gas if needed.

'Difficult decisions'

Sharing details of the COVID-19 situation in Sindh, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said the provincial government had suggested imposing a ban on inter-provincial transport on March 31 but the advice was turned down and now the situation is turning worse in the province.

"We have to take difficult decisions in order to control the pandemic," Murad added.

Attending the conference via video link, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar proposed imposing a two-week lockdown in Lahore. 

On Thursday, Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar and Special Assistant on Health Dr Faisal Sultan had called on the prime minister and briefed him in detail about the coronavirus situation in the country, after which the NCC meeting was convened.

The NCC is an apex body headed by the prime minister. All the chief ministers, federal ministers and other key officials are members of it.

Worsening situation

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Wednesday had suggested more restrictions to control COVID-19.

“We will have to increase restrictions. If we do not contain the rapid spread of the pandemic, we will have no option but to impose a complete lockdown in the big cities,” Umar, who also heads the NCOC, had said after chairing the meeting.

The minister had warned that this was the last chance for people to take the pandemic seriously as done in the first wave last year. Otherwise, he warned, they would have to suffer strict restrictions.

He regretted that neither was the public nor the administration showing responsibility to ensure full compliance with precautions and anti-COVID SOPs issued by the government.

Umar had warned that the country was only a few days away from a complete lockdown so people must follow SOPs to stem the surge of COVID-19.