LAHORE: Following a surge in coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in Punjab, the government is considering proposals to extend the partial lockdown till May 31 except for the export industry and government offices, The Express Tribune learnt on Thursday.
A senior official revealed that the provincial government has forwarded the proposals to Islamabad for the final decision. He indicated that the government was considering lifting embargo on more export-oriented industries besides opening public offices for limited hours. It will be the responsibility of the head of the organisation, if the embargo is lifted, to implement social distancing measures imposed by the government and not allow gathering of more than three workers at the same place.
All export industries will be bound to implement standard operating procedures (SOPs) announced by the Punjab industries department for the safety of their employees.
Another official indicated that the government has also decided to partially open shops during the holy month of Ramazan. However, the decision about opening hours is yet to be made as the trading community is pushing the government to allow them to open their business. Traders are also giving assurances that they will observe all precautionary measures advised by the government.
Responding to a question, the official pointed out that grocery, fruit, vegetable and milk shops are already open. The government may give the conditional go-ahead to other businesses, but it all depends on the evolving situation.
However, the government will not allow the opening of hotels and restaurants during Ramazan, although it may allow takeaway kiosks outside the restaurants during Sehar and Iftar hours.
The first case of Covid-19 surfaced in the country on March 15. After reviewing the situation and deliberation, the government imposed a lockdown in Punjab, initially for 14 days, on March 24, which was later extended till April 14 and then April 24.
A month has been completed since the lockdown was imposed and now the government is reviewing proposals to further push ahead this embargo to contain the spread of the viral disease.
Meanwhile, Punjab Minister for Industries Mian Aslam Iqbal highlighted that the government has initiated a crackdown under the new anti-hoarding ordinance. Though, he indicated, an anti-hoarding law already existed in the province, the new law covered six more categories.
Addressing a news conference here on Thursday, he said that as per the new ordinance, violators may face a jail term of up to three years. Under new ordinance, hoarding has been declared as a non-bailable offence, which empowers deputy commissioners to raid at any place and seize hoarded stocks even without warrants.
He highlighted that all dealers, distributors, importers and stockists have to produce purchase record at the time of inspection. Any false declaration would result in a penalty of Rs1 million.
He highlighted that the provincial government had conducted raids and seized stocked items worth around Rs3 billion between January 1 and April 22, which were sold in markets as per provisions of the previous law.
He revealed that the government seized sugar worth Rs1.12 billion, wheat flour worth Rs28.9 million, vanaspati ghee worth Rs327 million and thousands of tonnes of other eatables and essential commodities.
He warned that the government has already completed stock-mapping and strict action will be taken over violation of the laws.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2020.