Small businesses reopen after 47 days as govt relaxes lockdown, PM urges a balance between economic activity and precautionary measures. PHOTO: REUTERS

SOPs thrown to wind as lockdown eased across country

Small businesses reopen after 47 days as govt relaxes lockdown

​ Our Correspondent May 11, 2020
ISLAMABAD: Small markets and shops reopened across the country on Monday, as the government further relaxed coronavirus restrictions after almost two months despite a sharp uptick in number of Covid-19 cases.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government was gradually easing the lockdown in order to maintain a balance between economic activity and precautionary measures against the coronavirus pandemic, keeping in view the problems facing the people.

According to officials, all the small markets, shops, and allied industries of the construction sector reopened under a federal government announcement last week. Though the government had framed standard operating procedures to prevent the virus’ spread but at several places people appeared to be less careful.

“As per the government decision, all shops and small markets will open from morning to evening for four days a week,” Ajmal Khan Wazir, spokesman for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, said. Wazir requested the public to follow standard procedures to prevent the virus’ spread.

“Although markets and shops were reopened under strict SOPs, most shops and markets were crowded and SOPs were not being followed,” said Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in Karachi. Shah expressed the hope that people would understand the gravity of the situation and follow the SOPs.

Small markets reopened in Punjab where barbers and beauty salon had also been allowed to work but shopping malls, plazas and educational institutions remained closed. Balochistan switched to a smart lockdown with provincial regime warning of strict action against those who violated the SOPs.

In March, the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, closing shops, markets, shopping centers, and offices except for emergency services, in a desperate move to suppress surging Covid-19 cases. On Thursday, Prime Minister Imran announced a gradual loosening of the lockdown.

Traders ‘confused’ about lockdown exemption

Imran said that the lockdown has badly hurt laborers, small businessmen, and the general public, adding that the country’s tax revenues dropped 35% while exports also fell due to the lockdown. However, the government extended the closure of educational institutions across the country until July 15.

On Monday, as the country reopened, the prime minister chaired a high-level meeting to review the Covid-19 situation, the financial impact and the problems faced by the masses because of the lockdown, according to an official statement.

Addressing the meeting, Imran reiterated that the government was gradually easing the lockdown in order to maintain a balance between economic activity and precautionary measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting was attended by federal ministers Hamad Azhar, Asad Umar and Khusro Bakhtiar, prime minister’s advisers Dr Hafeez Sheikh and Razzaq Dawood, special assistants Lt-Gen (retd) Asim Bajwa, Zafar Mirza and Dr Moeed Yousaf and other senior officers.

The prime minister was Informed about the current status of the coronavirus situation. The meeting also reviewed the situation regarding the provision of medical facilities to the affected people and the provision of safety equipment to doctors and medical staff. He directed for an integrated strategy for better utilisation and easy access to ventilators.

“The lockdown is being gradually eased keeping in view the economic situation of the country, the problems of the people and the situation in other countries,” he told the meeting. “The international community is realising that the lockdown is a temporary measure against coronavirus,” he added.

Imran said that concerns among some quarters regarding the coronavirus test should be allayed and the people should be encouraged to undergo test if the symptoms appeared. “Information should be provided to the people regarding quarantine at home,” he stressed.

The SOPs

While announcing the reopening of the businesses, the government issued the SOPs, saying that the retailers would not allow any customer without face masks and there would be a distance of at least six feet between each person. “The shop owner will deal with only one customer at a time,” it said.

The government had said that no business would be conducted on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Hence, small markets reopened on Monday after 47 days. General stores, bakeries, vegetable shops are allowed to do business from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm but the big markets would remain closed.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also allowed business activities for four days a week while markets will remain shut for the remaining three days. In the federal capital, people started visiting markets following the SOPs issued by the district administration. "We are following the SOPs and asking customers also to follow the same," said a shopkeeper. “the shopping will pick in the last 10 days of Ramazan.”

The reopening of markets returned the usual hustle and bustle of Karachi – the commercial hub of the country – leading to a surge in traffic flow and consequent logjams at several places. The scene harked back to the pre-Covid days.

"It is particularly tough for those fasting [during Ramazan] but this relief was very much needed in view of fast approaching Eidul Fitr," said Abdul Wahid, who runs a garments store in the Bohri Bazaar of Karachi’s financial district of Saddar.

Emphasizing that things were turning grimmer and depressing for the small and mid level entrepreneurs, he thanked the Prime Minister Imran Khan and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah for realizing the intensity of the situation and allowing gradual opening of business activities.

Momina Khan, a lady doing Eid shopping, with due care towards her personal protection, urged the citizens to take stock of the challenge, a global pandemic, ensuring strict compliance to the standard operating procedures announced by the authorities.

"Life has to move on under all conditions but its sanctity has also to be ensured," said Khan, She urged the people to ensure strict compliance with SOPs announced by the authorities.

With input from agencies