Pakistan decides not to enforce indefinite lockdown


World, Neighbours

Pakistan has also reduced the quarantine period before Covid-19 tests for inbound air passengers from 48 hours to the earliest possible

People wait for their turn outside a shop at a market after the government eased the lockdown in Islamabad. (AFP)

Islamabad: Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan's close aide on Tuesday said that the government could not enforce an indefinite lockdown due to the absence of any timeline about the end of novel coronavirus crisis, as the number of COVID-19 patients in the country jumped to nearly 33,000.

Addressing the media after the Cabinet meeting chaired by Khan, Information minister Shibli Faraz said that the government resources were not enough to sustain the pressure of an indefinite lockdown.

"Given the situation, if we can do both - protect our lives and keep businesses running - that would be the best; we don't have any other options,"” the minister said.

Faraz also expressed concern at the large number of people coming out after lockdown was relaxed but warned that the people should follow guidelines and maintain social distancing.

"If people continue getting ill, then it will have a bad effect on our hospital capacity and limitations," he said.

He said that Planning minister Asad Umar briefed the Cabinet meeting about the COVID-19 crisis and the efforts of the government to deal with the situation after easing of the lockdown.

Earlier, Umar chaired the meeting of National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) which discussed the safety of the health workers and the situation after easing of lockdown.

Prime minister Khan tweeted that the NCOC was also apprised by officials of the health ministry about a plan to launch the campaign ‘'WE CARE' for the protection of the healthcare workers.

The move comes after at least 440 healthcare workers across Pakistan, including 70 nurses, tested COVID-19 positive and eight health workers died.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus cases in Pakistan jumped to 32,916. Punjab province registered 11,868 patients, Sindh 12,610, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 5,021, Balochistan 2,158, Islamabad 716, Gilgit-Baltistan 457 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 86 patients.

A total of 57 more people have died in the last 24 hours, taking the death tally to 724. So far 8,555 patients have recovered.

Following a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths in the Sindh province and disregard of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) by the people, chief minister Syed Murad Ali Shah on Tuesday issued a stark warning to traders, shopkeepers and public that they could face a more stringent lockdown in the coming days.

The Sindh government has eased lockdown restrictions from Monday, allowing some private sector offices, businesses, traders and shopkeepers to resume their work.

However, a blatant disregard for the prescribed SOPs by all stakeholders has given rise to concern about increase in COVID-19 cases in the province.

Heavy traffic jams were witnessed at many places in Sindh. One could even see three or four people riding on a motorcycle without any protective gear. No social distancing measures were observed in shops and other public places.

"If the SOPs agreed between the government and traders are not observed, I will have no option but to withdraw the flexibility granted for the resumptions of day to day business activities. People are not understanding the severity of the pandemic...We have to abide by the SOPs, our health system does not have the capacity to sustain the pressure of new cases," Shah said.

A total of 593 new coronavirus cases and 18 deaths have been reported in Sindh during the past 24 hours

The Peshawar High Court has decided to close down its major offices from May 13 to 31 after several employees tested positive for the virus. However, two single benches will be functional during this period.

Pakistan has also reduced the quarantine period before COVID-19 tests for inbound air passengers from 48 hours to the earliest possible, a move aimed at bringing home more citizens stranded abroad.

Following prime minister Khan's directive to bring stranded citizens back home, the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), in coordination with the provinces and health professionals, reduced the quarantine period before testing for inbound air passengers from 48 hours to earliest possible.

This strategy will allow to raise the weekly cap for inbound passengers from 7,000-8,000 to 11,000-12,000 under the current policy.

In a related development, Pakistan extended the suspension of domestic flights till May 29, the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement.

The domestic flights were earlier suspended till May 13 in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser, who was tested positive for the coronavirus on May 1, tweeted on Tuesday that he was allowed to go home after improvement in his condition.

"I am feeling better and will soon fully recover by the grace of God," he tweeted.