PM Imran announces ease in coronavirus lockdown from Saturday

PM Imran urges nation to share the responsibility and follow the SOPs to contain the coronavirus spread

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said Thursday the government had decided to ease the lockdown in Pakistan given the impact it has had on the economy.

Speaking after a meeting of National Coordination Committee (NCC), which is the apex coronavirus decision-making body comprising top civil and military leaders, including the provincial chief executives, PM Imran said the country would be opened "in a phased manner from Saturday".

"It is now the responsibility of the masses to follow the rules; otherwise, we would be forced to reverse the decision. I was in favour of allowing public transport but the provinces did not agree to it.

"It has therefore been decided that the provinces will make their own standard operating procedures (SOPs) and share [them] with the Centre.”

'Still unsure' when coronavirus cases would peak

The prime minister said the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) — headed by Planning Minister Asad Umar — met daily to analyse the current situation and take input from the provinces as well.

It consulted with the doctors and experts before making decisions, the premier said.

“We are still not sure when will the coronavirus peak come — in one or two months — but we have to open our industries as the daily wagers and labourers are suffering due to the lockdown and closure of businesses.”

Pakistan’s situation, he added, was better as compared to other European and rich nations. Tax collection had already gone down 35%, he noted.

He said the government had announced a Rs1.2-trillion relief package — the "biggest in Pakistan’s history".

"We have to strike a balance in curbing the virus and fighting the hunger in the country," he added.

PM 'could have imposed decisions'

Speaking to the media after the NCC meeting, Planning Minister Umar said all decisions were being made after consultation with the provinces and "with regard to human lives".

"In the talk shows, it looks like the Centre and provinces have locked horns," he said. "If the prime minister wanted, he could have imposed decisions about the transport [industry] on the provinces but he opted for agreement with them."

Also read: COVID-19 patients will not be 'forcefully shifted' to isolation centre, says Sindh government

The new developments to ease the coronavirus lockdown included opening up small, neighbourhood markets, hardware stores, and outpatient departments (OPDs) at the hospitals, the minister said.

"All shops will open after sehri but businesses will remain closed for two days in a week," Umar added.

'Close eye on global trends'

Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar said the government would open pipe mills, paint manufacturers, electric, as well as steel and aluminum shops and factories.

The prime minister's focal person on coronavirus, Dr Faisal Sultan, said he consulted colleagues from around the world and sought their input to make policies accordingly.

“We keep a close eye on global trends. Our trajectory of the cases is slow but we don’t want to ease restriction in such a way that we lose control of the disease.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the NCC had proposed easing in lockdown restrictions after May 9.

Read more: Over a dozen Balochistan districts have not registered a single coronavirus case

In an inter-provincial education ministers' conference earlier in the day, the governments of Punjab, Balochistan, and Sindh had opposed reopening educational institutions after June 1.

In the meeting chaired by Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood, the provinces had stressed on keeping educational institutions closed. It remained inconclusive and the matter was left for the NCC to decide.

The Cabinet had on Tuesday approved a proposal to ease countrywide restrictions after May 9 — a recommendation that the premier had backed keeping in view the hardships being faced by people due to the lockdown.

However, PM Imran had warned of an abrupt spike in infections if the standard operating procedures (SOPs) were not implemented strictly after lockdown restrictions were relaxed.

Post-lockdown SOPs

The NCOC firmed up multiple recommendations to ease the lockdown restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus. The measures include opening the inter-provincial transportation in line with the SOPs and resuming operations at selective OPDs in the federal capital.

The suggestions comprised measures to strike a balance between efforts to curb coronavirus and revive economic activities. These would remain in effect till May 31 if approved in the meeting tomorrow.

The recommendations also included the opening of second phase of the construction sector and reopening retail outlets.

The participants also proposed that shops should remain open from 9am to 5pm and then again from 8pm to 10pm.

No changes were made in the SOPs for religious festivities in the second half of the holy month of Ramadan; the measures would remain the same as previously agreed between the government and ulema.