Saturday February 04, 2023

Sindh, Centre again lock horns over lockdown

By Our Correspondent
August 01, 2021

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: The federation and the Sindh government have again locked their horns over the complete lockdown announced by the latter with both sides jealously sticking to their viewpoints and throwing barbs at each other.

The major reaction came from Governor Sindh Imran Ismail who advised Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to ensure strict enforcement of SOPs to deal with the situation rather than going for complete and curfew-like lockdown.

Addressing a press conference at the Governor House here, Imran Ismail made it clear that the federation was against extreme steps to contain the pandemic, as the national economy could not afford shutdown of industries and business activities particularly in Karachi — the economic hub of the country.

“The Sindh government neither took the federal government on board while taking the decision nor did it consult with the other stakeholders including trade and industrial community,” he said.

He said the decision was also a violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment directing that the NCOC guidelines be followed while dealing with the pandemic.

He said complete closure of industry and business was not a viable option and the provincial government’s unilateral decision in this regard was a surprise move for the federal government as well as NCOC.

“It was better to sternly enforce the SOPs first and then opt for lockdown in hot spots. If the situation does not improve, move gradually towards the extreme measures,” he advised.

Imran Ismail said the federal government and all its institutions were ready to extend every possible assistance to the Sindh government in this regard.

He said the federation did not favour a complete and curfew-like lockdown adding that Prime Minister Imran Khan believed that the national economy and majority of the population could not withstand the severe implications of complete lockdown.

“Prudent and far-sighted policies of Imran Khan leading the government to deal with the situation were globally acknowledged and admired because closure of industries and markets is like cutting down the jugular vein of economy,” he maintained.

He said it was the chief minister and his team’s responsibility to strictly implement the SOPs throughout the province adding that it appeared that the provincial executive’s failure was the major reason for the spread of the contagion, as the detection ratio had reached 30 percent.

“It is evident that the provincial administration failed to ensure observance of SOPs in markets and other public places during Eidul Azha. Even people in queues outside the vaccination centers were seen not wearing facemasks,” he noted.

The governor said there were reports that the vaccine provided by government was being sold in the open market and vaccination cards were being issued without administering jabs.

“The Sindh government must refrain from depriving its people of their sources of livelihood and reconsider its decision,” Imran Ismail said.

He advised that business organizations, trade unions, elected representatives, notables and influential personalities should be consulted before taking any such decision.

He censured the Sindh government for not inviting the leader of the opposition in the Sindh Assembly in a meeting of the task force and said the opposition leader was a constitutional position and it must not be neglected on the basis of likes and dislikes.

Replying to a query about the conduct of elections during the COVID situation, Imran Ismail said the government had requested the Election Commission of Pakistan for postponement of elections till improvement in the situation but the decision rested with the Commission.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry Saturday feared the Sindh government’s unilateral actions contrary to the federal government and National Command and Control Centre’s (NCOC) directives might cause immense damage to the economy.

In a video message, he emphasised that Pakistan successfully fought the first three waves of the pandemic with a strategy and that could not be changed.

He said people were concerned over the provincial government's decisions, particularly imposition of complete lockdown in Karachi to curb the rising COVID cases.

The minister pointed out that closure of industry in Sindh would harm the economy and create employment problems.

“The industries whose 100 per cent workforce is vaccinated, should be reopened,” he added.

Fawad contended that the way the Sindh government was imposing restrictions would only add to the hardships of the common man.

He noted that under Articles 149 and 151 of the Constitution, and the Supreme Court's decision, the provincial governments could not take unilateral decisions, rather they were bound to implement the federal government's guidelines and the NCOC's strategy.

The minister insisted, “The Sindh government, therefore, should immediately open industries, and not pressurize traders and daily wage earners, regretting that had the Sindh government implemented the standard operating procedures (SOPs) related to the coronavirus, the province would not have been facing the present situation.”

On its part, he maintained that the federation was cooperating with the provincial governments to curb the pandemic. He said the fourth wave of coronavirus started from India, where the Narendra Modi government unfortunately did not take the required steps to control its outbreak.

“Today, India has become a source of spreading Delta virus in the entire region. While the world economies are just recovering from the coronavirus successfully, they again came under stress due to the irresponsible policies of Indian government.”

Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar Saturday appreciated the Sindh government's move to loosen coronavirus restrictions but maintained these were not enough.

"The decisions made yesterday, especially those pertaining to industries and transport, need to be reviewed. We put forth our point of view yesterday, as well as today, based on which a partial amendment has been announced, which is a welcome sign. But further amendments are needed," he tweeted, reports Geo News.

Umar said Pakistan's strategy of smart lockdowns that protected both people's health and employment was "praised across the world".

"Such decisions were made after minutely reviewing ground realities," he said.

"These decisions are taken via a platform where there is a presence of all federal, civil, military, and provincial institutions," the federal minister said.

The NCOC chief said after a year's performance, there should be no doubt that the forum operates "with no political bias" and makes decisions that are in the best interest of the nation.

Asad reminded everyone that the NCOC made decisions after consultations with provinces and it was due to this factor that the country was able to beat three COVID-19 waves.

"If every province had relied on its own resources and made decisions without consultations, then this could not have been possible," he said, indicating that without teamwork, it was impossible to beat COVID-19.

Asad Umar hoped that the Sindh government would further consult NCOC on its decisions in a meeting tomorrow, following which a strategy that could protect both the citizens' health and their jobs would emerge.

Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar Saturday said the Sindh government should focus on SOPs implementation and targeted interventions in high-risk settings to control the COVID spread in Karachi.

“A blanket lockdown in the economic heart of Pakistan would endanger livelihoods of millions,” he tweeted.

Following his press conference in Islamabad, Bilawal took to twitter stating that lives were at risk but the PTI was playing the politics of hypocrisy.

Bilawal also shared news clips on the lockdowns in Lahore and other cities of Punjab.

Bilawal tweeted, “Lockdowns were used to stop the spread of COVID in Lahore. Now PTI opposes and undermines all measures to contain the spread in Sindh. “If, God forbid, we see an India like situation arising PTIs disinformation and sabotage are to blame.”

Defending their position on the lockdown, Sindh Law and Environment Adviser Barrister Murtaza Wahab said they first shared the draft of notification [imposing lockdown] with the NCOC before issuing the lockdown order.

Addressing a press conference at the Chief Minister House, Murtaza Wahab shared with the media persons the documents pertaining to the latest lockdown orders, which were earlier shared with the federal government.

He recalled that CM Murad Ali Shah after attending the provincial coronavirus task force meeting had telephoned Prime Minister’s Aide on Health Dr Faisal Sultan and Federal Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar, as it had been decided in the telephonic conversation that the NCOC would also issue its own notification (following Sindh government’s notification to impose lockdown in Sindh). However, he said, instead of issuing the notification, the spokesman for the federal government later on objected to the Sindh government’s authority to order the lockdown.

He said the Sindh government later issued an amended notification in accordance with the federal government’s objection to banning the movement of inter-provincial public transport in Sindh.

Barrister Wahab claimed that the NCOC never opposed their decision to impose lockdown in Sindh.

“We try our best to work in conformity with the federal government but it is unfortunate that these people come up with a different version when they appear on the TV screens,” he said while talking about the federal authorities concerned.

“It is my request that this issue shouldn’t be politicized, as we are under obligation to protect the masses against this lethal epidemic. I call upon the people who issue statements that they should persuade the people (to adopt safety precautions). For God’s sake, they shouldn’t cause division among the people,” he said.

He said nobody had earlier raised objection when the Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had imposed lockdown in Lahore, as they had also desisted from doing criticism in this regard. “We know how serious the issue of coronavirus is, likewise, Usman Buzdar knows well the situation of Lahore. In the same fashion, the people present in Islamabad don’t know the severity of (coronavirus) situation in Karachi,” said Barrister Wahab.