Confusion reigns over lockdown ‘relaxation’ in Rawalpindi

Various service providers did not open their businesses for fear of being arrested


​ Our Correspondent April 16, 2020
Vehicles run past the Centaurus mall in Islamabad, Pakistan. PHOTO: REUTERS

RAWALPINDI: Even though the federal government had announced a relaxation for a range of small businesses and industries during the ongoing lockdown due to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, most markets in Rawalpindi remained shut on Wednesday because of confusion surrounding an official notification of the measure, or lack thereof.

Many business owners loitered outside their stores and preferred to keep their shutters firmly shut, fearing that the police may penalise them for violating the ban or worse, arrest them.

WIth Rawalpindi recording at least 90 Covid-19 cases during the three-week-long lockdown, many traders and small business owners have been pushed to the limits of their finances. The announcement from the federal government on Tuesday that certain segments of the society will be allowed to venture out of their homes for work including barbers, tyre, tailoring and hardware shops.

Owners of these businesses rushed out on Wednesday morning to their respective stores, eager to restart their businesses. However, confusion was created when in some places the police discouraged them from doing so while in other areas cops watched on as spectators as owners fretted over a formal notification granting the permission they needed.

Many business owners and their staff were seen sitting outside their closed stores until mid-day.

Once such situation emerged when the owners of the automobile and spare parts stores peaked their shutters in different parts of the city but they were told to shut them. Owners remained unsure if their businesses have been exempt from the ban and how would the partial ban be applied.

Learning that the shops may reopen, many day labourers also poured into the markets, hoping to find work after more than three weeks. But they were disappointed to learn that market leaders had decided to keep their shutters down for at least another day to avert any costly legal action.

Markazi Anjuman Tajiran President Malik Shahid Paracha said that they had heard the prime minister say on the television that the construction industry and allied businesses will be allowed to open but no clarification was offered in any notification about which specific businesses were allowed.

He urged the district administration to issue a notification specifying the businesses which can operate.

Moreover, the main commercial markets remained shut and the Metro Bus Service (MBS) between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi also remained suspended.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2020.

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