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April 15, 2020

Milder lockdown to last for two more weeks

April 15, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The National Coordination Committee (NCC) chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday approved the recommendations of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) for extension in the lockdown in the country for two weeks with some relaxations.

The NCC discussed the NCOC recommendations in details and agreed that the lockdown must be extended by two weeks under which the construction, fertiliser, agricultural goods and import industry will be allowed to function with some conditions. Shopping malls, markets, cinema houses, sports stadiums, educational institutions and public places will remain completely closed for the next two weeks, while shops of dry cleaners, electricians, plumbers, stationery and hair dressers etc will open under standard operating procedures (SoPs).

The NCOC said in a statement that a review of the COVID-19 outbreak along with the enforcement of restrictions and its fallouts was undertaken at the NCOC with all four provinces, AJK and GB on Tuesday.

“It was felt that the restrictions need to be extended but certain relaxations related to low-risk economic activities should also be considered. This is to be done with a view to minimising the financial hardship that the restrictions have caused for the lower income segment of society,” said the statement.

In this regard, it was mutually decided that all the industries, services and retail of all essential items shall continue to operate. This includes all industrial and commercial entities that are part of the supply chain of food items, medicines, pharmacy, agriculture, fuel, media, banks and philanthropic organisations.

The transport of all goods in the country shall also continue to take place without interruption. However, the existing closure/ban on areas of congregation like schools, marriage halls, cinemas, restaurants etc shall remain in place. The restriction on inter-provincial travel shall also continue.

On the recommendation of NCOC, the following categories of low risk economic activities were also agreed by the provinces, AJK and GB to be allowed to operate subject to adherence of SOPs: Chemicals manufacturing, e-commerce for export (business process outsourcing, call centres), e-commerce for local/delivery companies (specified items), software development/programming, paper and packaging, industries with labour within premises, cement plants, fertiliser plants, mines and minerals, dry cleaner and laundry services, horticultural and botanical nurseries, manufacture of agricultural implements and machinery, glass manufacturing, veterinary services, all export industries (subject to verification of orders from TDAP, bookshops/stationery (either home delivery or stand-alone shops).

It was also recommended to the provinces, AJK and GB that individual shops of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, tailors, street vendors be allowed to open. There were a variety of opinions on this issue and it was recommended that the provinces decide on this issue as per their own judgment and circumstances.

On the issue of the construction sector, there were a variety of opinions that were tabled. The NCC said the sector will be opened in sequence/phases with the low-risk activities being recommended to open in the first phase starting from today (Wednesday). The following supply chain of construction can be opened from today: cement plants (already open), brick kilns, stone quarries, bitumen plants, prefab material manufacturer.

In the light of the variety of opinions on resumption of construction activities and also the phasing/sequencing of this exercise, it was decided that the provinces should exercise their own judgment, as per their own circumstances and conditions, on the opening of construction sites in the public or private sector and its sequencing and geographical locations. The opening of the retail outlets/stores of the essential construction materials will naturally be associated with the specific decision by each province to open the construction sites.

The construction activities related to the federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) will also be reactivated. The safety SOPs with regard to the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 for general industries and construction sector were circulated to the provinces and entities during the preceding weeks. It will be the responsibility of the employer to ensure adherence to the SOPs.

The SOPs regarding congregational prayers during Ramazan are being devised in consultation with Ulema of all Fiqh. The meeting observed that the government continues to strive to bring back Pakistanis stranded abroad in the safest possible manner. This week, 2,000 stranded Pakistanis will return from different parts of the world. After detailed consultations between the federal and provincial governments, it has been decided that 6,000-8,000 passengers will be brought back from next week. Arrangements are also complete to bring back Pakistanis stranded in Afghanistan through land borders. The goal remains to continue increasing capacity of intake so that all Pakistanis wishing to return can do so as soon as possible.

Minister for Economic Affairs Division Hammad Azhar said after the meeting that that all provinces showed agreement to reopen construction sector amid coronavirus lockdown.

Hammad Azhar, while addressing a joint press conference alongside Prime Minister Imran Khan, special advisers and ministers after attending NCC meeting, said that provinces were consulted for the resumption of activities of the construction sector and the country has unanimously decided to reopen it.

Hammad Azhar said that e-commerce, software development, paper packaging unit, cement plants, fertilizers, mines and minerals plants will also be reopened.

“The trade of instrument manufacturers and some other industries will also be reopened in accordance with the SOPs. Veterinary hospitals and book shops will be reopened as well,” he said.

“However, provinces have not shown agreement on some points as the federal government wants to allow daily wagers like electricians, plumbers and others to resume their routine work. Punjab government has shown support to recommendation placed by the federal government,” he said.

The minister added that construction activities will be resumed in different phases as the cement and brick industries will be reopened across the country. He said the government of Gilgit-Baltistan suggested reopening the government projects first.

Hammad Azhar said the federal government will review the measures before the commencement of Ramazan.