Are we going to witness a near-normal activity in the country from today? Well, it looks so.
The PM has announced extending the coronavirus lockdown in the country for two weeks — albeit more leniently than what had been in practice since March 23. The decision taken at the level of the National Coordination Committee — a body comprising representatives from the Centre, all four provinces, administrative territories, and various state organs — allows the construction industry as well as manufacturers of exports goods to function under certain SOPs. A statement from the PM’s special assistant Firdous Ashiq Awan — coming in the wake of the media briefing at which the lockdown decision was announced by the PM and his team — notifies who all are allowed to reopen their businesses. They include cement and fertiliser plants, nurseries, companies related to service industry, food and beverages firms; E-commerce, software development concerns, stationery shops, veterinary hospitals, etc. Transportation of goods will also continue unhindered, says Awan, adding that it’s for provinces to decide whether carpenters, tailors, electricians and plumbers should resume work.
In a related move, ulema and religious scholars from across the country have declared that lockdown will not be applicable to mosques across the country and congregational prayers will be held there with proper implementation on the precautionary measures advised by the government. Besides, small traders in three provinces — Sindh, Balochistan and K-P — have also announced opening their shops and businesses from today, and warned that they stand ready to court arrest if stopped by the provincial authorities. And the business community in Punjab has asked the CM to allow commercial activities at least for a limited time in the day. All this means that the lockdown is practically only applicable to educational institutions, marriage halls, shopping malls, cinema halls and recreation places.
The lockdown decision comes at a time when the country is nearing 100 coronavirus deaths and the total number of infections are approaching 6,000 cases. As this ease in lockdown is set to conflict with the social distancing practices, it remains to be seen how the authorities ensure compliance on the suggested SOPs.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2020.