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Easing lockdown

In wake of the declining new COVID-19 cases in Pakistan, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has allowed commercial activities and resumed transport services across the country on a limited scale under all the health protocols.

The covid-19 monitoring body announced that public transport — between provinces, inter cities — will resume functioning from Sunday instead of the previously announced May 17. The forum also expressed satisfaction on compliance of SOPs during Eid holidays by appreciating the efforts of all stakeholders especially the cooperation rendered by the public across the country.

The NCOC said that the transport will be operative with 50% occupancy of passengers. Railways will maintain its operation with 70% occupancy. All markets and shops will remain open till 8 pm from May 17 onwards. Normal working hours for offices will be resumed from today onwards.

Fortunately, after the government’s sanctions and drastic measures, there has been a significant drop in COVID-19 cases in Pakistan over the past week, with less than 3,000 cases recorded in Pakistan since March with a 7.82 percent positivity rate.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Pakistan, the government has been trying to control the epidemic by imposing restrictions on the affected areas and was successful to limit the spread of the virus during the first and second wave of covid-19 and even in the third wave, the rate of positive cases has come down significantly due to direct steps taken by the government.

The government justifies the easing of nationwide restrictions on economic grounds; indeed, the lockdown’s tolls on the most vulnerable, workers and the poor have been brutal. Pakistan is a developing country and the government does not have enough resources to shut down the whole country and feed the people at home.

The public health crisis and an economic downturn could be devastating, particularly if citizens feel that the government is not adequately looking after their health and wellbeing.

Keeping in view the situation, PM Imran is in a dire dilemma of safeguarding the health of his citizens and equally salvaging the economy, arising from the social distancing and lockdown strategies that affect economic activities.

The NCOC said that at every stage the data will be reviewed before relaxing restrictions across the country. This is to ensure that the steps aren’t making the COVID-19 crisis worse, to prevent unsustainable pressure on the national health system and to ensure that prevention steps like vaccines, masks and social distancing are still working.

It is also an incredible achievement that several people have received their first vaccine, with over millions receiving their second jab. The latest easing of lockdown restrictions will be welcomed; we must not be complacent and should continue to follow social distancing rules. We know from previous experiences that too much relaxation too quickly can lead to an increase in transmission and hospitalizations.

The federal government should guide provinces on pandemic policy and help reinforce their health systems but also permit them to devise their own local strategies guided by medical experts. It should work with the parliamentary opposition on its response, particularly on providing a safety net to vulnerable parts of society.

Pakistan should also translate the catastrophic coronavirus crisis into an opportunity for undertaking reforms in its economy, polity, and foreign and security policy. Failing this, the country will face the prospect of further deterioration in its economy. The increase in poverty and unemployment will fuel political and social unrest; this, in turn, could destabilize the civilian government and threaten whatever democratic progress Pakistan has made so far.