- Provincial task force grants exemption to export-oriented industries
- All markets to remain closed and inter-city transport to be suspended, says provincial govt
- CM Sindh says health system would choke if strict measures are not taken
Karachi: In an attempt to battle the fourth Covid-19 wave, the Sindh government has decided to impose what it called a 'partial' lockdown in Karachi, starting tonight until August 8, Aaj TV reported on Friday.
The decision was taken in a meeting of the Provincial Corona Task Force, chaired by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, who later said that this lockdown is partial, and not like the one imposed earlier.
Export-oriented industries, which have to fulfill orders, have been exempted along with grocery stores and pharmacies. However, all shopping plazas and inter-city transport will be shut down.
The development comes as Pakistan battles the fourth wave of the coronavirus that saw 86 fatalities recorded in the last 24 hours. The number of daily cases has surged to a three-month high with the medical community urging further restrictions in Sindh, the hardest hit province in the country.
"We cannot afford to see our health system getting choked," said CM Murad in a press conference. "I request the people to follow SOPs.
"Almost 100% of the recent cases that have been reported in Karachi are of the Delta strain. For the last three days, more than 2,500 coronavirus cases have been reported in Sindh."
He maintained that the lockdown is aimed at stopping the spread of the deadly virus and protecting lives, stressing the need for people to get vaccinated. "We will move towards re-opening on August 9 if the situation improves."
Meanwhile, salaries of public sector employees, who have not been vaccinated by August 31, will also be put on hold. Government offices will also be closed from next week.
Federal govt evaluating Sindh's decision, says information minister
Reacting to the development, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the federal government is carefully evaluating Sindh's decision.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan’s policy is clear that his government will oppose any action plan that makes poor people more vulnerable economically,” he said in a Twitter message.
Fawad urged the Sindh government and NCOC to work together to formulate a plan. “NCOC and Sindh government should devise an action plan which can ensure minimal impact on common man's income and business.”
PM Khan has maintained that Pakistan cannot afford a complete lockdown as it can take a toll on the country’s economy.
Sindh's Covid positivity rate shoots up
Sindh Health Secretary Dr Kazim Jatoi earlier informed the task force meeting that a positivity rate of 13.7 percent was recorded in the province, which had 39,958 active cases as of Friday. He said 1,410 of the patients were admitted to hospitals, 1,192 were critically ill and 102 were on ventilators.
The health secretary said that the positivity rate in Karachi during the last 24 hours was 23 percent, 14.52 percent in Hyderabad and 2.9 percent in Sukkur.
The chief minister said that in Karachi, the highest positivity rate was recorded in East district at 33 percent, followed by 21 percent in Korangi district and 19 percent in West district.
South and Malir districts reported a positivity rate of 17 percent each, he said.
The meeting was also told that 469 Covid-19 patients had died in Karachi during the last 29 days, of which 323 had been on ventilators while 50 died at their homes.
Traders reject govt's decision
Meanwhile, traders 'rejected' the Sindh government’s decision to impose a lockdown in the province.
They said that the decision will affect small shopkeepers the most. They maintained that the government's harsh decision will lead to further unemployment.
The traders said that they are not against the lockdown but the government should provide relief to them as they have been suffering financial losses due to Covid pandemic.
Sindh Local Government Minister Nasir Hussain Shah has said that the lockdown is being carried out for the safety of the people and it cannot be successful without the cooperation of the people.
In a tweet, he said: "The only purpose is to protect the lives of you and your families. We are in a state of war and only a united nation survives during wars."
Sindh has recently seen a massive surge in Covid infections, especially in Karachi, with reports of a complete lockdown doing the rounds since earlier this week. On Thursday, NCOC chief Asad Umar disagreed with the idea. He stated that instead of imposing a complete lockdown, enforcement of SOPs should be the priority.
Umar said that a complete lockdown is not the solution even as Sindh, especially provincial capital Karachi, recorded a surge in coronavirus cases.
He said that they have learned from last year that coronavirus restrictions, broader lockdowns and stronger enforcement of SOPs had a positive effect in controlling the Covid-19 situation in Pakistan.
Umar further said that Pakistan's efforts in dealing with the pandemic were also recognised around the world.
He continued that, according to the data by the NCOC, Islamabad has the highest enforcement of health guidelines at 56.4%, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (46%), Punjab (38%), while the lowest enforcement is in Balochistan at 33%.
While talking about the devastating situation in Sindh, especially in Karachi, the minister said that the implementation of coronavirus SOPs was also 33%. He said that the Sindh government is taking proactive measures, adding that the federal government will assist Sindh in every possible way.
"If the provincial government requires Rangers and armed forces, the government will deploy them."
Later, responding to his statement, Sindh Government Spokesperson Murtaza Wahab said that it is not sure whether Karachi would undergo a complete lockdown but it would be “something like that.”
However, he ruled out any consideration of the NCOC’s advice, saying the provincial government is not bound to follow the federal government’s line.
Federal govt to assist Sindh
The NCOC also held a meeting on Friday in which the coronavirus situation was reviewed, especially the virus spread in Karachi.
The forum decided to take all possible measures to assist the Sindh government in combating the rising trend of the disease.
In addition, measures being undertaken by the federal government include ramping up of critical care capacity, oxygenated beds and vents, and availability of oxygen in hospitals.
The NCOC also decided to ramp up deployment of LEAs for the implementation of SOPs and NPIs.
At least 86 people lost their lives while 4,537 new Covid infections were reported in the last 24 hours across the country. The overall coronavirus death toll has reached 23,295.
The NCOC said that the total number of recovered patients in Pakistan stands at 938,843 and the number of overall confirmed cases has risen to 1,024,861. The Covid-19 positivity rate in Pakistan stands at 7.79 percent.