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Pakistan Announces End to Coronavirus Restrictions

by Newsweek Pakistan
Citizens wearing face masks as part of social distancing guidelines

File photo

Official statement urges citizens to continue wearing masks in public places, maintain social distancing

Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) on Wednesday announced a schedule to end restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus—despite daily new incidents of the virus still exceeding 1,000.

In a statement, the NCOC—tasked with guiding the country’s coronavirus strategy—said that it had decided to reduce or remove altogether restrictions after reviewing existing non-pharmaceutical interventions to treat the novel coronavirus. However, it warned, that the decision could be reviewed once more if there were any future spikes in the prevalence of the disease. It also stressed that provinces could continue to enforce targeted restrictions in areas that continue to report new cases of the virus.

According to the NCOC, existing restrictions would be removed as follows:

  • An immediate halt to time limits on commercial activities and amusement parks
  • No more requirement for public and private offices to have 50 percent of their employees working from home
  • Indoor wedding ceremonies and dining to be allowed to resume from March 15, provided they maintain stringent standard operating procedures to curb the spread of COVID-19
  • Cinemas and religious shrines to be allowed to reopen, with strict SOPs, from March 15
  • Spectators’ attendance in the ongoing Pakistan Super League cricket matches to be increased from the existing 20 percent to 50 percent, with a potential for 100 percent attendance in play-offs with COVID-19 SOPs

Despite the lifting of virtually all remaining restrictions, read the NCOC statement, citizens would still be required to continue wearing face masks in public places, maintain social distancing, and adhere to targeted “smart” lockdowns in areas with high prevalence of the virus.

It also noted that the Election Commission of Pakistan could stage local bodies’ and cantonment board elections by the end of May or early June 2021.

School restrictions

Separately, in a statement posted on Twitter, federal education minister Shafqat Mahmood announced that all educational institutions would be allowed to return to a five-day workweek from March 1. “Restrictions imposed in some major cities on schools to conduct staggered classes was only [applicable] till Feb. 28,” he added.

Pakistan’s decision to end COVID-19 restrictions comes as the country continues to report more than 1,000 daily new cases of the virus. On Thursday, the country reported 64 deaths due to the virus, raising the overall reported death toll from the pandemic to 12,772.

The country has already launched a coronavirus vaccination campaign, with frontline healthcare workers already being inoculated in the first phase. The second phase, set to commence in March, would expand immunizations to people over 65. The government has yet to announce its plans to vaccinate eligible citizens aged between 18 and 60 years old.

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