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ISLAMABAD: With Covid-19 cases on a decline in the country, the government of Pakistan on Thursday decided to allow various sectors to resume normal operations from next week, with Planning Minister Asad Umar saying standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each sector would be finalised shortly.

Addressing a press conference here, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said that dine-in restaurants and beauty salons would reopen across Pakistan on August 10 as efforts against the coronavirus pandemic seemed to bear fruit.

Umar added that a review on the decision to reopen educational institutes on September 15 would be taken on September 7.

The relevant and revised standard operating procedures (SOPs) would be finalised in two days, he explained.

The move to reopen the country came following a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) and discussion on recommendations in the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), he said, referring to the primary body overlooking the efforts against the coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan, which he heads.

Sharing a list of dates for the reopening of various businesses and other activities, the minister said that hotels at tourist destinations would be allowed to reopen on Augusts 8th, restaurants/cafes (dine-in), cinemas/theatres, public points and gyms on August 10th.

While educational institutes and marriage halls are likely to be allowed to reopen on September 15, adding reopening of educational institutes was subject to a review meeting on September 7th.

Sports and games would be allowed to resume but without spectators, and pillion-riding was permitted as well, he said.

Traveling in public transport, while standing, however, will not be allowed, he added.

Beauty parlors, exhibition centres, and shrines were being allowed to open, he said, but warned people to follow the SOPs in large gatherings at the shrines, and seek permission from the administration before events that might attract crowds.

Umar said, "The hospitality sector, restaurants and cafes with which hundreds of thousands of people are attached, and they were facing serious hardship, would be allowed to restart operations on Monday, August 10."

However, the restrictions on passengers in train and airplanes were to continue until September.

"Passengers will be able to travel on the airplanes in a normal manner from October 1," Umar said.

"The situation was brought under control with the cooperation of the people."

"We are seeing the fruit of our efforts and receiving international praise," he added, expressing gratitude to the healthcare workers and administration officials for their hard work in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

"The entire system that we created, introduced a smart lockdown, contact tracing and the related plan of action that we adopted has been highlighted globally," he said, while highlighting the Covid19-related steps taken by the federal government.

"International magazines and newspapers are praising Pakistan and listing us among the countries that dealt best [with the pandemic]," he said.

Speaking of the "smart lockdown" and claims, the world was learning from Pakistan, he said: "Just today, I was reading a printed article in an international magazine that advised the Philippines to look at Pakistan if it wants to learn.

"This is all that we have achieved so far," he said.

The minister explained that Prime Minister Imran Khan's PTI government had kept certain sectors and economic activities shut down till now but considering the aforementioned praise, the coronavirus numbers, and consultations, debates, and discussions between the NCC, the NCOC, and the provinces, some new decisions had been made.

However, "if we see a change in the attitude of the people, this situation may change [further]. The SOPs related to Muharram have been set up in consultation with the religious scholars," he added.

Umar concluded his press statement by saying that while the government had decided to reopen all sectors, this did not mean the threat from COVID-19 was over.

"Globally, we are seeing spikes in cases after they had brought the pandemic under control," he said.

"The threat is ongoing ... if we become complacent there is a great chance that the situation will worsen once more," he warned, adding that if that happened the government would have to reconsider resumption of normal operations.

"The sectors we are opening now are the ones that carry the most risk of spreading COVID-19. This is why they are being reopened so late," he said, urging the public to be ever more careful now than they had been earlier.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020