Spokesman says decision has been taken due to rising cases of local transmission of coronavirus in the province
The Balochistan government on Tuesday announced that it was extending till May 5 the ongoing lockdown in the province in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus amidst rising numbers of cases in the past week.
“Due to the rapid pace in local transmission of the coronavirus [in Balochistan], the government has decided to extend the existing lockdown till May 5,” provincial government spokesman Liaquat Shahwani told a press conference in Quetta. He said the province had informed the federal government that it needed to urgently test 50,000 tests across the province to gauge the trajectory of the virus.
“Once we have those tests in hand, and have a better idea of the situation, we will either ease or strengthen the existing movement restrictions,” he said, adding that he had just been informed of 21 new cases of the virus—all of whom had contracted the virus through local spread.
Balochistan is currently reporting 495 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 6 deaths and 167 recoveries. It has 322 active cases, a majority of which has been reported from provincial capital Quetta.
According to Shahwani, the government had decided to make it mandatory for anyone not staying home to cover faces in public. “Anyone who violates this decision, will be arrested and placed in quarantine centers,” he said.
A subsequent notification issued by the provincial Home and Tribal Affairs Department verified that the lockdown had been extended by two weeks—it was set to expire on Tuesday midnight—to May 5. It said that the increasing number of patients through local transmission of coronavirus could result in devastating illnesses and deaths across the province.
According to the notification, all public gatherings, inter-city and inter-province travel and religious gatherings would continue to banned. Shopping malls, restaurants, and markets would also stay closed.
It said that anyone found violating the movement restrictions could be charged under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to ensure public safety, save lives and maintain peace and tranquility in the province.
“It is mandatory to take all pragmatic and possible measures to contain and counter the further spread of coronavirus on war footings,” it said, adding only one person would be allowed per vehicle—two if one of them is a patient or elderly person.
The notification says all public and private offices would continue to be closed, and has advised anyone not staying home to keep their CNICs, office cards or written permission with them to ensure police don’t harass them for violating lockdown orders.
It said vehicles transporting medicines, dry food and medical tools can travel with up to three people, including a driver, cleaner and helper.
Similarly, it said departmental stores had been allowed to open only their grocery sections to allow people to buy essential items.
The notification has also issued instructions for funeral prayers, saying these would only take place after securing permission from the local police and by implementing precautionary measures. “Everyone shall stand at a distance of three feet from each other and only close relatives should take part in the burial,” it said.
The federal government has already extended its existing lockdowns to April 30, with Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa backing that view. However, Prime Minister Imran Khan has advocated easing lockdowns and has even permitted mosques to resume congregational prayers, raising fears that this could result in rapid spread of COVID-19 through clusters.