Pakistan will begin easing its nationwide lockdown in a phase-wise manner by allowing various businesses to open up from Saturday, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday, citing the economic crisis due to the shutdown even as the country recorded a rise in new coronavirus cases with over 24,000 people infected so far.
The premier made the announcement after chairing the National Coordination Committee (NCC) meeting in Islamabad where recommendations made by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) regarding reopening of small businesses and educational institutions by easing lockdown curbs in the wake coronavirus pandemic were discussed.
We have decided to lift the lockdown. I must make it clear that lockdown will be lifted from Saturday not from tomorrow but from Saturday, the prime minister said in a televised briefing.
He said the decision was taken as businesses and people were facing problems.
We are doing it because the people are in extreme difficulty. Small business owners, daily-wagers, labourers are facing difficulties. We fear that small and medium industries may completely vanish if we do not lift the lockdown, he said.
He said 35 percent of revenue collection decreased and exports shrunk. We have already opened the construction sector and from today we are going to open various sectors relating to the construction industry.
He agreed that the situation was not clear as the curve of coronavirus cases was going up and there was no indication when the peak would be reached.
He said Pakistan did not witness a peak as was witnessed in the European countries.
The easing of lockdown came as coronavirus cases crossed 24,000 with 38 more deaths in a single day.
The nationwide tally of COVID-19 patients stands at 24,526 with 9,077 cases in Punjab, 9,093 in Sindh, 3,712 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 1,659 in Balochistan, 388 in Gilgit-Baltistan, 521 in Islamabad and 76 in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The virus has claimed at least 578 lives while at least 6,464 coronavirus patients have recovered.
Khan urged the people to maintain social distancing and following the official guidelines. He said that the success of this next phase would depend on the cooperation of the people.
He said public transport would not be open as provinces opposed the decision but clarify that he was in favour of opening public transport.
We have asked the provinces to make SOPs so that public transport could be made functional. Public transport has even opened in the countries where 30,000 people passed away due to coronavirus, he said.
Khan said about 125,000 Pakistanis wanted to come back but it would take time as government need to put them in quarantine.
When we bring people from abroad we have to conduct tests, keep them in quarantine and we do not have that many resources, he said. Minister for Planning Asad Umar said that six major decisions had been taken about lifting of restrictions.
He said more sectors related to construction will be opened; selected OPDs in hospitals will be opened to treat specific diseases and illnesses; markets will open after sehri (start of fast at dawn) but close at 5 pm; markets will remain closed for two days per week; and small markets will also be allowed to open.
However, the reopening of schools was delayed on the demand of various provinces, according to Umar.
Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood said that all schools, universities and other educational institutions will remain closed till July 15.
The Prime Minister’s focal person on coronavirus Faisal Sultan said that the number of news patients was increasing due to more tests being done. But, he said, still the trajectory was slower.