KARACHI: The country on Saturday appeared to be moving towards a lockdown given the severity of the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Hours after the Punjab government announced a lockdown in the province from Saturday night till Tuesday morning, the Sindh government also decided in principle to follow suit, and an announcement in this regard is expected on Sunday (today), sources said.
The option of lockdown was discussed in a civil-military huddle at the Governor House in Karachi. “The coronavirus pandemic is very serious, which can create Iran- and Italy-like situations here,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
“We have discussed various options and are considering lockdown,” he added. A follow-up meeting would be held on Sunday (today) at the Chief Minister House to further discuss this option, the official said, adding that the “civil and military officials will present their plan” in the meeting.
Other sources have said that the government had decided in principle to lock down the province from midnight Sunday. The official announcement in this regard would be made by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in a video message on Sunday.
During the lockdown, the sources said that retail shops, bakeries, milk shops and medical stores would remain open and the government would take measures to prevent unnecessary rush at these shops. The law enforcement personnel would increase their patrols to ensure people stay indoors.
Murtaza Wahab, the spokesperson for the Sindh government, did not mention a lockdown in his tweet. He said that the chief minister had completed consultations with the stakeholders for taking tough decisions for the province.
The sources indicated that the duration of the lockdown would span over 14 days, however, it could be extended depending on the situation. In a late-night development, the government wrote a letter to the interior minister, seeking military's help under Article 245 of the Constitution.
The civil-military meeting in Karachi came after the Punjab government finally announced a lockdown in the province from Saturday night to Tuesday morning, as the number of patients of coronavirus continue to rise.
The cabinet committee on coronavirus decided that all parks, markets, shopping malls and restaurants will be closed from 9pm Saturday to 9am Tuesday, except general stores, meat and chicken shops, fuel stations, pharmacies, bakeries, tandoors, fruit and vegetable shops.
Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar said it was an effort to encourage social distancing and make the campaign against coronavirus more effective.
“Though hotels and restaurants will remain closed during this period, they can continue their takeaway service.”
Though the provincial government had previously announced certain preventive measures but it drew a lacklustre response from the masses in Rawalpindi. The government has also banned the entry of visitors to the tourist spots in the province, including the Murree Hills.
On the same lines, the Gilgit-Baltistan government also took stringent measures and imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code to discourage gathering of the people.
A G-B official said that Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehaman would supervise the preventive measures in the region.
The Azad Kashmir government suspended the inter-state public transport for three days from Saturday under the health emergency imposed on late Friday to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The decision was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by AJK Prime Minister Farooq Haider Khan.
“No public service transport vehicle would be allowed to ply any route to and from the stipulated destinations in the state for next three days,” the meeting decided, according to an official statement. The government warned that violators would be punished under Epidemic Diseases Act.
And presiding over the State Coordination Committee's (SCC) meeting on Saturday, the AJK prime minister directed the authorities concerned to ensure availability of edibles and other basic necessities of life to the masses.
He also ordered for the screening of those returning to the state from abroad.
"They must stay at their houses after completion of the screening process and the district administration along with health officials will visit their homes to monitor the situation on a daily basis," he added.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the government dispelled the reports regarding lockdown of cities. Addressing a press conference in Peshawar on Friday, Chief Minister's Adviser Ajmal Khan Wazir said the provincial capital would not go into a lockdown. He, however, appealed to the people to be cautious.