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Monday Nov 16 2020
Web Desk

No more political rallies, large gatherings to be limited to 300 people, PM Imran Khan announces

Web Desk

Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing to the nation from Islamabad, on November 16, 2020. — YouTube 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday urged the nation to follow coronavirus-related standard operating procedures (SOPs), warning that authorities have observed that infections in Pakistan have quadrupled over the past 10 days.

Addressing the nation following a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) on coronavirus, the premier announced a moratorium on political rallies and gatherings, but emphasised that businesses would not be closed yet. 

The PM also announced a ban on gatherings and crowds of more than 300 people, but said outdoor dining arrangements in restaurants and outdoor weddings were fine.

  • Ban on large gatherings of more than 300 people
  • No indoor marriages to be allowed; only outdoor events with a maximum of 300 guests will be allowed
  • Indoor dining at restaurants allowed, situation to be reviewed after a week
  • The option to give educational instituions an extended winter vacation to be decided in a week's time
  • PM reiterates need to use masks in closed, crowded spaces and its enforcement by local authorities as previously decided

He said testing in schools was underway and a decision on the extension of winter holidays would be made after a week.

"We reviewed the rising cases of the COVID-19 and the second wave — which is being experienced in the entire world, especially Europe and America, where cases are rising rapidly and even more than they were before," PM Imran Khan said.

"In America, coronavirus cases have risen beyond the first peak and we see the same in England. They have started lockdowns; just like they shut down their countries earlier, they've gone towards the lockdowns again.

Pakistan 'a lucky nation' compared to Iran, India

"We were observing how many cases there are in the provinces. So, first off, I wish to tell you that God was especially benevolent towards us. We are a very lucky nation — see our neighbours Iran and India. God was especially kind to Pakistan, we were saved from the havoc the coronavirus wreaked in the rest of the world and in our neighbouring countries.

"We are thankful to God that our country was saved from the coronavirus deaths, and secondly, we also saved our economy from destruction, as compared to what's happening in the other nations.

He regretted that Pakistan's service sector sustained a lot of damage during the first lockdown. "For example, tourism, marriage halls, and restaurants — this is quite a large sector and it was hit significantly when we shut down our economy," he said.

"Despite that, Pakistan — as opposed to the rest of the countries — performed much better during the first wave," he noted. "However, it is with sadness that I say this today that our cases have quadrupled over the past 10 days — they rose four times — and deaths have shot up to 25 on average [per day] as compared to five or six a day earlier.

'Face masks is the easiest precaution'

The prime minister said his government feared that not following SOPs would lead to the same pressure building on hospitals as was seen back in June. 

He warned the country that medical facilities in major cities would soon be full given "the speed at which patients are being admitted" at present.

"God forbid our situation worsens further! We have already seen that it spread even faster than before in the rest of the world," he said.

PM Imran Khan noted that the coronavirus seems to be mutating and is spreading faster than before. 

"I request my nation that this is the time to take precautions. If we do that, we will be able to stop and slow it down, the same way all of us — everyone in the nation — took precautions earlier and we were saved [because of them].

"We have to do the same again, because that time has come. Face masks are the easiest precaution," the premier said.

"We just need to slow it down. It will spread nonetheless but if we slow down its speed, then our hospitals will not come under pressure because our main goal is that we do not want our hospitals to be filled up or our doctors and nurses to face the pressure they faced in June.

India suffered 'a huge loss due to its lockdown'

He warned that if the situation went back to how it was in June, "we will face challenges, as we have seen the conditions that the rest of the world is experiencing right now, especially Europe and India".

The government had made several decisions, he said, and those needed to be followed "the same way the nation stood with us [and] fought [coronavirus] together and we were saved".

"The first precaution is to wear face masks wherever you go in public and, secondly, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic spreads whenever people are close together and the more the number of people are close together, the quicker it spreads.

"We have to try to ensure that we do not engage in activities that attract crowds. We also have to understand that we have to save our economy — we know that India suffered a huge loss due to the kind of lockdown they imposed.

India "has still been unable to pull itself out [of that loss] but we managed to do it earlier because we took better precautions and when we started opening up [our economy], people followed the SOPs".

Govt 'will be watching'

PM Imran Khan spoke of the time during Ramazan when Pakistan chose not to close down the mosques.

"The biggest example is that the entire world shut down their mosques during Ramazan except Pakistan. Pakistan was the only Muslim country in the world that kept its mosques opened and it did not spread due to the mosques.

"Why did it not spread? Because the imaams and ulema in our mosques advised following the SOPs, practising social distancing, and wearing face masks and we were saved. We didn't shut down our mosques.

The premier mentioned that his government did not wish to close down anything that would affect people and their incomes. "In factories, we do not want anything that impacts people's livelihoods," he said.

"We won't close down factories, shops, and businesses but you all have to make sure you follow the SOPs.

"The government will be watching you, I want my voluntary force — the Tiger Force — to keep us [the government] up-to-date through mobile phones as to who is following the SOPs and who's not. In fact, I want everyone to tell us. It's because the people will bear the real brunt, not any single personality, not the government," he added.

COVID-19 spread 'significantly after election campaigns'

With regards to crowds, the PM announced a moratorium on political rallies and gatherings. "We had our rally [in Rashakai] this Saturday but we have decided that anything that does not provide livelihood will be closed down," he noted.

"We have scrapped our rallies and we'll urge everyone else to do the same because that's the one place where the virus spreads the fastest. The chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan told us that the coronavirus spread significantly after the election campaigns," he said.

The prime minister said weddings should be arranged outdoors "because when a large number of people gather in an enclosed space, the cases rise and our testing has showed that it spreads rapidly there".

"So no more than 300 people should be in a gathering — even in marriage halls and we want that to be outdoors — and everyone should wear a mask and practise social distancing.

"As for restaurants, we are not closing them down, especially the outdoor ones, the 'truck restaurants' [on the highways], and the dhabas [roadside cafes] are okay; but if it's enclosed, then don't [let people sit] close to each other," he said.

Indoor dining would be allowed for the present but would be reviewed after a week, he said, encouraging outdoor dining or takeaway options.

Extended winter vacations possible

PM Imran Khan underscored that the government had decided to review the situation at educational institutes for another week "as we are conducting tests to see how much coronavirus is spreading ever since schools were reopened".

"If we believe it's spreading fast in schools, then we'll give a green signal to longer winter holidays and reduce the number of summer holidays, that is, one month of summer holidays and more winter holidays," he said.

The PM, towards the end of his address, said the coronavirus pandemic was "a test for our country and for the entire world". He reiterated that people should follow the precautions and SOPs the same way they did earlier.

"God willing, we'll be able to save the lives of our people and businesses and economy so that unemployment does not rise," he said.

NCC, NCOC recommendations

The NCC meeting came after the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) recommended urgent and emergency measures to control the rapidly-increasing second wave of coronavirus infections across Pakistan.

The NCOC had recommended limiting all public events — including cultural, political, religious, entertainment, and civil gatherings — to 500 people. It also suggested allowing only outdoor dining till 10:00 pm, shutting down cinemas and theatres, and closing down shrines.

Read more: No decision on closure of schools, early winter vacations, says Shafqat Mahmood

The NCOC also suggested an early closing of markets and safe days. It recommended notifying early and extending winter vacations to federal and provincial education departments, keeping in view the rising positivity rate in educational institutions. 

The decision on early and extended winter vacations was deferred till November 23, the Ministry of Federal Education/Professional Training said Monday.

School closure

Earlier in the day, Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood had convened a special meeting to deliberate the plan of action of educational institutes with provincial education ministers. 

According to the statement, provincial ministers had apprised the forum about the latest coronavirus situation and the impact on the education sector in their regions, but no final decision was taken about vacations and closure of schools.

The Inter-Provincial Education Ministers' Conference (IPEMC) will meet again on November 23 at 11:00 am to review the situation.