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June 20, 2020

In Lahore, smart lockdown means only shutter down

Top Story

June 20, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Punjab has imposed lockdown in eight cities identified as virus hotspots including Lahore. However, if Lahore is taken as an example to understand what ‘smart lockdown’ means, it can be described as a shorthand expression of shutter down without any restriction on free movement even in the areas identified as the hotspots.

“This smart lockdown will only bring bad name for the government,” said a well-placed official in the provincial capital. In the order issued by the Home Department, it was directed that “there shall be complete ban on movement of people into and from these (virus hotspots) areas by public and private transport except for limited movement of one person per vehicle to and from the exempted facilities.”

However, the situation is quite opposite on ground; only commercial areas are closed and everything else is normal. Smart lockdown is going to be a failed experiment in this setting, officials fear. Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid was not available for comments despite repeated calls.

The News has spoken to residents in Lahore and their accounts relating to free movements have also been confirmed by official sources. “Frankly, it is not too effective in some areas,” said another highly-placed official but he insisted that there is better lockdown in some areas. Which one? Garden Town and DHA, he said. However, field reports from those areas suggested there is no restriction on free movement.

“At times, people taunt us while sharing details of certain areas under lockdown (in official orders) but without implementation,” according to a high-up. He attributed this mess to exemptions granted to different sections of society. There are 20 types of exemptions that have been granted about business activities and individuals combined making it easier for everybody to fabricate an excuse.

On the other side, police don’t know whether to arrest or not the violators of lockdown. In case the offender is apprehended, it means he will be put in the lockup for production before a court the next day in order to fine him for violation. This could also mean raising the risk of virus as the offender could be a potential carrier of virus. In order to avoid this, a summary has been moved to slap fine on the spot. Fifteen days have passed since its submission and it still awaits the cabinet’s nod. So in absence of any practical system in place, even police if issues ticket to somebody for violating lockdown, it is done under the pretext of traffic rules violation which can be challenged in any court of law. It has been learnt that data of safe city cameras is now being analysed to determine the in/out flow of people from hotspot areas.

Similarly, there is no proper chain of command system, background interviews with top officials suggest. In cases, even the chief minister’s orders are ignored. Weeks ago, he directed the oxygenating 1000-bed hospital set up at Lahore’s Expo Center. It has not been done yet. Former chief secretary used to get updates on a checklist from regional police officers and commissioners through a video conference on daily basis thus putting them on alert, this practice has also been stopped after his transfer, said an official. “If you find somebody doing something, it is only due to personal motivation,” he added.

If high-ups tend to be concerned about weakening writ in the provincial capital with, according to a report, around seven lac patients then who is responsible? Who makes decisions is anybody’s guess. This is also evident from the widely circulated summary that was presented to the Punjab chief minister in mid-May warning about an alarming on ground situation that “no workplace or residential area of any town is disease-free and as such, the entire Lahore exhibits an alarmingly similar transmission pattern.” This report submitted by the primary and secondary healthcare departments had also suggested that the decision on “hardening or softening of lockdown cannot and, should not, be taken in isolation from the departmental viewpoints and other key stakeholders.” But they were not taken into confidence when decision regarding smart lockdown was taken. Eventually, nobody can be held blameworthy in the event of a crisis.