An otherwise bustling street in Murree looks deserted following the lockdown order as part of measures to contain spread of coronavirus. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Lockdown has daily wagers worried

Closure of tourist sites in Murree, other areas leaves thousands unemployed

​ Our Correspondents March 21, 2020
RAWALPINDI/ ISLAMABAD: The spring season draws people to popular picnic and tourist spots. But unlike the hustle and bustle of past years, these places look like ghost towns this year after the government shut down most of these spots to avoid the congregation of a large number of people in small areas to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The government’s order to shut down public places at the popular hill station of Murree after recreational spots in Islamabad and Rawalpindi has left thousands of daily wage earners temporarily unemployed.

Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner Anwarul Haq, acting on provincial government’s orders and in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, ordered the closure of all hotels and restaurants in Murree. Picnic spots, swings and chairlifts in Patriata and Ayubia have also been closed.

Moreover, police have been deployed at strategic points in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to inform all Murree-bound tourists to cancel their tour and go back. Apart from foreign visitors, these areas are popular weekend haunts for residents of the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Hundreds of people, working on daily wages at these hotels, restaurants, roadside eateries, picnic spots and rides have been rendered jobless.

Roadside vendors, taxi drivers, porters and people providing various services to tourists in Murree have lost their source of income as well.

However, authorities who have imposed the ban for an initial three weeks, say this exercise is necessary to contain the pandemic.

Owing to the complete shutdown of all hotels and other public places the roads of Murree, Patriata and Ayubia were deserted, while there was minimal traffic on the Murree Expressway barring a few vehicles. Locals feared that poor families will face severe financial problems owing to the prolonged closure of the hill station.

In the cities too, spring means lots of cultural activities and public outings bringing earnings to roadside vendors and people running fast food stalls and such services near popular destinations such as the Islamabad Zoo, the National Museum, Pakistan Monument, Lok Virsa, Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), Shakarparian, Rose and Jasmine Park, Ata Turk Park, Japan Park, Daman-e-Koh, Rawal Dam Jheel Park, Ayub Park and other such places.

Asad, who runs a fast-food stall at Daman-e-Koh, said that the spread of the virus and the subsequent loss of revenue meant that his family is now food insecure.

“We live one day at a time. A day’s earning lost means a shortage of rations,” he told The Express Tribune.

Junaid, who has a fast-food kiosk near Lok Virsa, said: “Our country is not a welfare state in which people are given relief by the government. Tourists (customers) have not been turning up here for the past six days and we have nowhere to look to.”

Many other small shopkeepers and vendors urged the government to provide relief in the shape of waiving or at least subsidising power and gas bills and private school fees.

Pindi gets first COVID-19 patient

The first confirmed coronavirus case in Rawalpindi was reported on Friday. The victim is a 40-year old man had recently returned from Dubai.

The patient had been screened at the Islamabad International Airport (IIA) were displayed some symptoms and was subsequently shifted to a quarantine ward at the Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH).

On Friday, his reports came back positive him coronavirus positive, which has driven the tally of infected people in Punjab to 83.

Punjab CM Usman Buzdar took to Twitter directing health authorities to provide best medical care to coronavirus patients.

Hostels, schools become quarantine centres

At least 30 hostels of colleges and higher secondary schools in Rawalpindi district have been declared as quarantine centres by the district administration.

The district administration had further assigned gatekeepers, peons, sanitary workers, sweepers and gardeners to take care of and provide medicines to patients admitted in these quarantine centres.

However, sources say that college principals have written to the Directorate of Colleges, protest the decision.

While welcoming the decision of declaring hostels as quarantine centres, they expressed apprehension at deputing untrained employees of the education department to take care of COVID-19 patients.

The grade-four employees at these hostels and schools are not trained healthcare providers, dispensers or nurses, they said, adding that they do not even have the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for handling infected patients.

College principals suggested that the government direct the Punjab Health Department take over all the hostels and deploy its trained staff instead.

Suspected patient shifted to BBH

A patient, with a history of chest infection, was shifted to the BBH as a suspected COVID-19 on Friday.

Rescue 1122 officials said that the patient had been admitted to a private hospital in the city. But after his condition did not improve even after a few days of treatment, the hospital’s administration panicked and called Rescue 1122 with protective gear to shift the patient to BBH and seek treatment for COVID-19.

After sending the suspected patient off, the hospital was evacuated and disinfected. Meanwhile, doctors at BBH said the patient has been kept in the specially-set up an isolation ward and reports of his tests have yet to arrive.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2020.


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