Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced a two-week extension to the nationwide shutdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, but said that some industries would reopen in phases.
The coronavirus causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease.
The first industry to reopen would be construction, the prime minister said in a televised address to the nation.
“That lockdown, those restrictions on gatherings will continue for another two weeks,” Khan said.
Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar said that the industries that are being opened, besides construction, include the export sector, chemical manufacturing plants, e-commerce, software development and planning, paper and packaging units, industries with labour on site, cement and fertiliser plants, mines and minerals, plant nurseries, agricultural machinery plants, glass manufacturing plants, veterinary services, and bookshops.
He said that the construction sector will be opened in phases.
Those that will be opened in first phase include brick kilns, stone crushing plants, and cement factories.
These other industries are deemed as “low-risk” and would be allowed to reopen in phases, if they adhere to safety guidelines.
Educational institutions will remain closed, however, and public gatherings will not be allowed for another two weeks.
Pakistan, which has already completed a three week lockdown, has reported 5,716 cases with 96 deaths.
The latest numbers remain 30% lower than government projections of over 18,000 cases and 190 deaths, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said.
The health minister said that standard operating procedures for health and safety have been devised for some sectors that are being reopened.
“It was because of our timely decisions and your co-operation that we controlled the spread of the virus,” Prime Minister Khan said.
More than 18mn jobs in Pakistan have been estimated to be at risk amid the government’s campaign to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which includes a curfew enforced by the military in some areas.
According to a UN estimate, around 40% of Pakistan’s population already lives below the poverty line.
The World Bank has warned that Pakistan is expected to fall into recession in fiscal 2020/21.
Khan has sought debt relief from international lenders to combat the pandemic.
Speaking to media representatives after the meeting of the National Co-ordination Committee (NCC) in Islamabad yesterday, the prime minister said that the hard decision was taken to impose lockdown in the country, which was very well implemented due to the co-operation of the people.
Consequently, encouraging results are being received, with spread of the coronavirus slowing down to 30% of the projected target.
Khan said that the government took a number of steps to stop the spread coronavirus in the country, including closure of schools and educational institutions, cancelling the 23rd March Parade and the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and all other official and private functions where people could congregate.
He said that while there are enough ventilators, protective clothing and other gear to meet the demand, should the number of the coronavirus cases spike, the existing equipment will be insufficient.
The prime minister stressed that Pakistan is “fighting on two fronts”: one is containing the spread of the coronavirus, and the second is to overcome unemployment.
He said that daily wagers and other businesses are hurt by lockdown.
Khan said the Ehsaas Programme, the biggest in the history of the country, is playing a key role in provision of cash relief to daily wagers and poor people.
He added that the programme is without any political influence and will help any eligible citizen of Pakistan.
The prime minister said that there is consensus between the Center and the provinces regarding the opening the construction sector to provide employment to people.
He said an ordinance will be laid out soon to provide incentives to the construction sector to generate job opportunities.
Khan said that the agriculture sector will also remain open due to upcoming harvesting of wheat.
He said consultations will be held with the ulema of various schools of thought to make preparations for the upcoming holy month of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Division Dr Moeed Yusuf said that six airports of the country are being partially opened.
He said that around 35,000 stranded Pakistanis want to return to the country as soon as possible.
Yusuf said that the government’s priority is to bring back the Pakistani labour unemployed due to lockdown abroad, released prisoners, and umrah pilgrims.
The Punjab government has meanwhile extended the lockdown across the province for two months due to the rapid increase in coronavirus cases.
As many as 12 new cases of coronavirus were recorded in Rawalpindi, raising the total number to 128.
On the other hand, 16 confirmed patients were discharged from hospitals after they recovered from the disease.
Four of the new confirmed cases were reported from Banni and two from Pirwadhai, the district administration said.
The rapid increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in the province was termed “alarming and dangerous for health of the citizens”.
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