Pakistan’s prime minister warns of locking down cities if pandemic spread not reduced and appeals to all citizens to adopt SOPs or risk a situation like India
The Pakistan Army will be deployed alongside law enforcement agencies to enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) designed to curb the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Friday, as he warned the public that the country was on the brink of a public health disaster.
“The Army will now help enforce SOPs, as no one is adopting preventative measures right now,” he said in a nationally-televised address after a meeting of the National Coordination Committee on COVID-19. “There is no fear or concern among the public [of COVID-19],” he added.
Warning that the government would have no choice but to enforce lockdowns in major cities if citizens continue to ignore SOPs, he stressed that the government did not want to take this step. “This will impact our economy, which is finally starting to show signs of recovery; it will impact our factories; our shopkeepers; but most especially this will impact our daily-wagers who will not be able to earn a living to feed themselves or their families,” he added.
Lamenting that no one in Pakistan was taking any precautions right now, he reiterated his belief that the impoverished and downtrodden segments of society have been the worst-hit by lockdowns globally. “People are advising me to lock down right now. But we do not want to endanger the economy or our laborers,” he said. “We have avoided lockdowns for now, but how long we can continue to do so depends entirely on you,” he said, recalling that Pakistan had been the only country to not shut down mosques last Ramzan. He urged ulema to once again apprise the public about the threat of the pandemic and raise awareness about the need to adopt all SOPs.
Stop ignoring SOPs
“Unfortunately, no one is taking any precautions right now. Barely anyone is following SOPs. We are facing a very critical juncture,” he stressed, appealing to everyone to wear masks first and foremost. “Please wear masks; this will solve half of our concerns. If people adopt all SOPs from now till Eidul Fitr, we will not have to implement the steps that India is having to take right now,” he said, referring to the neighboring country’s decision to enforce fresh lockdowns after reporting the world’s highest single-day rise of confirmed infections since the pandemic started last year.
“If Pakistan hits the same level as India, we’ll have no choice but to close major cities to curb the spread of COVID-19,” he warned, noting that everyone could see how bad the neighboring country’s situation was through the media. “Hospitals [in India] are filling up; people are dying on the streets,” he said. “I want to appeal to everyone in Pakistan—if we don’t take precautions now, we will reach the same stage within a few days, two weeks at most,” he warned, adding that if the government had not increased its hospital capacity over the past year, the situation right now would have already overloaded the country’s healthcare infrastructure.
The prime minister also addressed mounting calls for a more robust vaccination campaign, claiming that the government was trying its hardest to secure more inoculations. “India was initially supposed to provide vaccines but their situation is so bad now that they are not giving vaccines to anyone,” he said. “We have also asked China for vaccines, but they are also facing a shortage,” he said, stressing that even if Pakistan had all the supplies it needed, it would take up to a year for them to show any impact. “SOPs have the most impact on reducing the spread of COVID,” he said, and urged everyone to wear masks, especially when sitting indoors. “I hope that you will curb the spread of pandemic by taking precautions,” he added.
Planning Minister Asad Umar, who also chairs the National Command and Operation Center, meanwhile announced fresh restrictions to help curb the spread of coronavirus. “The NCOC has been directed to sit with all provinces and plan out the possibility of city-wide lockdowns to ensure affected people are taken care of,” he said, adding that cities with positivity over 5 percent would have all their educational institutions shut down, including grades 9-12, which had been allowed to resume due to looming promotion exams.
Umar also reiterated that all bazaars and markets would shut at 6 p.m. daily, barring exempted industries such as pharmacies and grocery shops. Similarly, he said, all offices would be required to shut by 2 p.m. till Eid to allow people sufficient time to visit markets before they shut. “I urge everyone—men and women both—to do their shopping during the day, as shops will close at 6 daily,” he said, adding that people who wished to do Eid shopping should also avail this time to do so. “Please don’t wait till the final few days before Eid to do your shopping, as there is a potential for lockdowns,” he warned.
The minister said that the NCC had decided to ban all indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants till Eid, but takeaway and delivery would continue. He said that indoor gyms were also being shut, and claimed that the government would now strictly enforce the implementation of 50 percent attendance in all public and private offices.
“We will formulate a specific policy in the next few days to reduce the entry of people coming to Pakistan,” he said, noting that this would include mandatory quarantine and testing upon arrival to curb entry of mutated strains from outside the country.
Umar reiterated that Pakistan’s oxygen supply was under stress, noting that manufacturing was at 90 percent of capacity, and approximately 80 percent of this was being utilized for COVID patients. “If needed, we will import more oxygen,” he said. “Please follow SOPs to prevent disaster,” he added.