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NCOC Reiterates Call to Ban Large Public Gatherings

by Newsweek Pakistan

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Planning minister warns daily infections have nearly tripled in the past month

The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) on Wednesday reiterated its call for a ban on all large public gatherings, with Planning Minister Asad Umar saying that urgent steps were needed to save lives and livelihoods.

“NCOC has once again recommended to ban all large public gatherings,” Umar, who also heads the country’s COVID-19 response, posted on Twitter. “Rapid increase in positivity requires urgent steps to save lives and livelihoods. Since mid-October, when NCC [National Coordination Committee] first considered the NCOC recommendation to ban large public gatherings, daily cases have nearly tripled,” he warned.

In mid-October, Pakistan was reporting 600 new infections of COVID-19 daily; this number has climbed past 1,500 in the past week. Prime Minister Imran Khan last week announced that the government would not impose another lockdown “no matter what,” as the country’s economy cannot afford it. He merely urged the public to wear masks and adopt preventative measures—pleas that appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

“The national political leadership across the political spectrum needs to demonstrate leadership to send a message to the entire nation for taking preventive steps and follow SOPs [standard operating procedures],” continued minister Umar. “Consensus needed in NCC for taking this decision, which has been delayed due to lack of consensus,” he added.

Immediate recommendations

The NCOC has urged the NCC to, on an emergency basis, immediately ban all public gatherings of more than 500 people. It has also advised early and extended winter vacations in all educational institutions. The forum has said that indoor dining in restaurants should once more be banned, adding that outdoor dining should only be permitted till 10 p.m.

The NCOC has also urged the government to shut cinemas and religious shrines with immediate effect, and has urged a reduction in operational hours of markets and bazaars, with complete shutdowns every few days to curb the spread of the virus.

In a statement issued by the NCOC after it’s meeting, it echoed Umar’s statement, adding that the forum had also called to enhance movement restrictions to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It said that officials were briefed on the current situation, finding a threefold increase in new infections since the NCOC had last recommended banning large public gatherings and outdoor activities on Oct. 12 and again on Nov. 3.

According to the NCOC, a meeting of provincial education ministers and federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood has been called for Nov. 16 (Monday) to assess the positivity of the virus in schools and colleges. It said that the meeting would deliberate on whether harsher measures were required to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus among students and staff.

The statement said that the forum had advised early and extended winter vacations to ensure safety and health of students—a recommendation that is at odds with last week’s meeting of the provincial education ministers in which they advised no winter break because the positivity ratio in educational institutions was “within acceptable limits.”

The NCOC has already announced that indoor weddings would be completely banned from Nov. 20—a move that has prompted backlash from owners of wedding halls. Outdoor weddings, per an earlier notification, would be permitted with a maximum of 1,000 guests.

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