Complete Lockdown on Saturdays, Sundays

Chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the National Coordination Committee (NCC) Monday allowed the opening of businesses for five days until 7pm by strictly observing the SOPs with no trading on Saturday and Sunday.

The committee decided to devise a recommended list of businesses and commercial activities – unanimously agreed upon by the federal government and the federating units – would be circulated to the industry allowing them to resume their activities.

It was also decided to issue a negative list of businesses that would remain suspended in an effort to check further spread of the disease. The meeting also decided to run 40 trains to facilitate the passengers and save the cash-bleeding Pakistan Railways from the financial losses.

The committee thoroughly reviewed the COVID-19 situation in the country and decided to continue pursuing the policy of maintaining balance between life and livelihood while ensuring strict implementation of SOPs to contain the spread of the virus.

The prime minister urged the nation to strictly follow the SOPs for gradual opening of more sectors of economy, as the coronavirus was going nowhere at least for this year. He warned that the government would be left with no option but to imposed curfew if more areas were affected by the virus.

He said more details of decisions taken would be shared with the media after the meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre on Tuesday (today). A mechanism was developed to inform the public daily about the availability of ventilators in hospitals for their guidance.

Owing to uncertainty about the life and spread of the virus, it was reiterated during the meeting that ‘we have to learn to live with COVID; however, SOPs would be implemented to check the spread of the virus’.

The prime minister decided that the stranded Pakistanis abroad, who were mostly the laborers, would not be left unattended during these testing times and special flights would be operated to bring them back.

The prime minister directed that every effort must be made to facilitate them in their travel and ensure their tests soon after arrival at the airports. Addressing the media after the conclusion of meeting, the prime minister repeatedly urged the people to follow the SOPs and adopt social distancing to contain the virus.

He noted that the virus would further spread and unfortunately, there would be more deaths. “On the very first day, I had said that it would be our success, if we lead our life with responsibility and observe precautions, otherwise, we would harm ourselves. Therefore, in today’s meeting, several sectors are being opened.”

He said tourism was one such sector, as people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan earned their livelihood during three-four months of the year and if it was not opened, then they would be left without earnings.

Barring a few specific sectors, he noted, the rest of them were being opened along with SOPs, as the government had two challenges at hand: one to contain the virus and two; save people from hunger and falling below the poverty line.

He noted that 25 million people earned daily and weekly wages, and their families relied on their earning for food and hence round 130-150 million people were linked to this segment of the society. He said Pakistan’s situation was entirely different from China, US and European countries adding that from day one, he was against the lockdown but the provinces were free under the 18th Amendment to take their decisions independently.

“In my opinion, great hardships were caused by the kind of lockdown imposed. I would have never closed the business and construction sector. In US, 0.1 million people have died due to the virus and yet the country has decided to ease the lockdown despite being the richest country with a sound economy, having given $3 trillion stimulus package,” he maintained.

The prime minister continued that many countries went for complete down and the virus was effectively contained but when they softened it, the virus spread with great speed. The prime minister explained that around 25 per cent population lived below the poverty line in Pakistan, because 80 per cent labour was informal.

He said to contain the virus, the answer was lockdown, which was imposed after 26 virus cases were reported in Pakistan. “The virus can be contained but not eliminated, as its vaccine is yet to be developed.”

“The world has agreed, the richest countries have come to the conclusion that the virus will spread no matter what. Nothing can be done about it. The virus will spread and our death toll will also rise […] I told you that from day one,” he said.

“Due to the presence of 18th amendment, provinces in our country can make their own decisions,” Khan said, as he derided the “elites” of the country who did not care about the welfare of the poor.

“The reality of our country is that there are 25 million labourers whose families will starve if they don’t work. So I, personally, have always believed that a lockdown was going to affect these workers.

“When we impose and enforce lockdowns, people starve. Those who live in DHA don’t care about these things,” the premier stated. He said tourism was one of the areas where restrictions would be relaxed, as in many areas of Pakistan, tourism thrived only for three to four months in a year.

He said the governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan would prepare SOPs for opening the sector. He said coronavirus was here to stay unless a vaccine was developed to eradicate it, cautioning that the virus would further spread in the coming days.

He said, “We can live with it in a better way if people follow the SOPs and precautionary measures all the time”. He said the services of Corona Relief Tiger Force volunteers would be utilised to increase awareness among the masses about the pandemic and the force would be further strengthened numerically.

Imran assured doctors and paramedics that the government would assist them in every possible way while dealing with coronavirus and that he would soon meet the doctors association representatives in this connection.

Imran said the government had decided that overseas Pakistanis would be allowed to return to Pakistan and they would be tested for coronavirus.

“After the tests, they would be allowed to go to their homes and self-quarantine in case they tested positive,” he added. He said meetings at the National Command and Operation Center were being held daily to closely monitor and take stock of the situation. He said the chief ministers and provincial chief secretaries participated in Monday’s meeting

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