Pakistan lifted yesterday restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease.
The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) announced that cinemas, theatres, gyms, public points and dine-in restaurants would be permitted to reopen across the country from August 10 (yesterday), subject to the implementation of coronavirus safety guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Shopping malls and other businesses are set to remain open as per the pre-lockdown timings.
Tourist destinations all across the country – which received a boost when the government decided to allow hotels to reopen there – saw the revival of business there as people flocked to take in the sights and enjoy after months of being forced to remain indoors.
However, educational institutions and wedding halls will remain closed till September 15.
Face masks and social distancing are mandatory in public places.
The government has said that it would monitor whether the SOPs are being implemented or not.
After the announcement, people rushed to tourist spots with their families, some travelled back in search of lost jobs, while others were seen roaming freely in areas that were under the lockdown.
Tourists flocked to Naran, Kaghan, Nathiagali, Murree, Swat, and other tourist destinations in the Hazara division, where police, along with officials of the health department, were on the road to facilitate them.
“After the lockdown restrictions eased around the country, our favourite places are reopening their doors to welcome us once again,” said Sami Shabbi, an overjoyed tourist in Murree.
A group of youths in Murree regretted that a large number of people flocked to popular tourist sites and major cities over the weekend despite warnings from health authorities that the risk posed by the coronavirus pandemic remained far from over.
Pakistan reported its first coronavirus case on February 26 and enforced a countrywide lockdown in March and started sealing off virus hotspots from May.
Health ministry data yesterday showed that 539 new cases and 15 deaths were reported during the last 24 hours.
In total, the country has recorded 284,660 cases and confirmed 6,097 deaths.
So far, more than 80% of people infected with the disease have recovered.
Medics have meanwhile reiterated concerns that infections may increase again in the country.
“The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) is surprised over the decision to open all sectors at the same time,” said Qasier Sajjad, the secretary-general for the association of doctors.
He said that the government had taken the decision in haste and it was feared that infections may increase again putting pressure on the country’s fragile healthcare system.
According to the PMA, at least 101 doctors and 24 paramedics died from Covid-19.
Prime Minister Imran Khan meanwhile urged the nation to refrain from flouting the SOPs during Muharram.
Speaking at a ceremony in the federal capital, he lauded the Pakistan Tekreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Tiger Force volunteers for their role in supporting the government’s coronavirus response.
“Today Pakistan is among those few countries that have successfully managed to control the pandemic,” Khan said, adding that the world now recognises Pakistan’s successful strategy.
“Wear a mask every time you leave the house,” he said, adding that not wearing one would amount to being “ungrateful”.
The prime minister appealed to those attending majlis and mourning processions to adopt precautionary measures.
“This is a time for precaution. If God has blessed us, we need to be thankful, and wear a mask,” he said.
According to NCOC data, the number of tests, which had dropped to around 11,000 during Eid al-Adha, has increased again, with 23,390 people having been tested across the country during the past 24 hours.
In Sindh, 10,001 people were tested for Covid-19, followed by Punjab with 7,114, Islamabad 2,931, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 2,314, Baluchistan 697, Gilgit-Baltistan 117, and in Azad Kashmir 216 people.
The NCOC said that only 153 ventilators, out of 1,859 allocated for the Covid-19 patients, were in use across the country.
There was no patient on ventilator in Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, or Baluchistan.
It said only 1,334 patients were being treated in 735 hospitals with Covid-19 facilities in the country.
The first Covid-19 case was reported in Pakistan in the last week of February.
On March 13, a meeting of the National Security Committee, comprising the civilian and military leadership, was held to discuss the crisis which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Prime Minister Khan, who had chaired the meeting, directed the relevant authorities to devise a comprehensive strategy to check the spread of the disease.
A countrywide lockdown was announced on March 16 and a number of industries, educational institutions, restaurants and marriage halls were closed.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was involved to ensure the availability of medical equipment and health-related supplies at the earliest.
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