KARACHI: Several markets in Karachi and Rawalpindi were sealed on Wednesday for not following the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the government to curb Covid-19 infections after easing the coronavirus-induced lockdown and allowing business to reopen.
The moves comes a day after both the federal and Sindh governments expressed their frustration over thousands flocking to shopping centres in the two cities and flouting social distancing and other guidelines to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
In Karachi, the authorities sealed major markets in Saddar and other downtown areas as shopkeepers were neither wearing masks, nor using a hand sanitiser. They had allowed their shops to become crowded in violation of the rules. Besides, the markets were packed with thousands of shoppers who were not following the guidelines either.
Police sealed the entry and exits points of Zainab Market, Victoria Market, Madina City and International Market in Saddar, Gul Plaza and Al Haram Centre in Garden and Jillani Centre in Arambagh.
Three stores were also sealed in the city’s East district.
The markets were sealed on the orders of Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani.
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"These shops have been sealed as they were violating the SOPs despite warnings," the commissioner said in a statement, adding that he had personally inspected the markets.
Saddar Assistant Commissioner Asif Raza Chandio told reporters that traders had already been told that markets would be closed of the guidelines were not followed
"We are at war at the moment," he added.
“Wherever violations of SOPs are seen, immediate action will be taken.”
The sealed markets have thousands of shops. During the raids, the shopkeepers tried to resist the police.
The district administration said the shops would be allowed to reopen after assurances from market officials.
All Karachi Tajir Ittehad Chairman Atiq Mir regretted that the shopkeepers were not following the SOPs.
“We managed to convince the government to let the shops reopen after a great deal of effort and now the shopkeepers have let us down,” he told reporters.
The crackdown on the markets came as Sindh Governor Imran Ismail signed the Sindh Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, which prescribes strict penalties including a fine of up to Rs1 million for spreading the pandemic.
Citizens caught violating the orders passed under the amended law will be fined at least Rs200,000 and up to Rs1 million.
Furthermore, individuals and institutions found responsible for spreading coronavirus would be penalised. For instance, if a Covid-19 patient leaves quarantine and infects another person, or if there is an outbreak in an institution due to an infected employee, they would be fined by the authorities.
The draft of the amended ordinance was approved during a Sindh Cabinet meeting on April 27 after which it was sent to the governor for approval.
Prior to the amendment, the penalty for violating the Sindh Epidemic Diseases Act was Rs3,000.
The ordinance also applies to violations of restrictions imposed in connection to the lockdown and failure to control the spread of the virus.
However, in order to impose the fines, officials would be required to present concrete evidence against the accused.
Markets were sealed in other cities as well for not following the SOPs. In Rawalpindi, the district administration sealed 11 shopping centres in the last 24 hours. Assistant Commissioner Quetta Nida Kazmi sealed several shops in the city and over two dozen shopkeepers were rounded up.
Punjab Industries Minister Mian Aslam Iqbal warned traders in Lahore that the lockdown would be imposed again if the SOPs were not followed at markets.
The National Command and Operating Centre (NCOC) on Covid-19 in Islamabad held a meeting on Wednesday to review the situation after easing the lockdown.
The provincial chief secretaries informed the participants of the meeting that that markets had become crowded because of Eidul Fitr shopping.
Chairing the meeting, Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar stressed the need for provinces to take measures for the implementation of the SOPs.
The minister, who heads the NCOC, also highlighted the importance launching public awareness drives. He gave the chief secretaries three to four days to come up with measures to ensure that Covid-19 prevention guidelines were followed.
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Umar said comprehensive SOPs had been devised for every industry, including the construction sector, and all factories and markets.
“The SOPs have been sent to all provinces,” he added.
The minister said the lockdown had been relaxed to facilitate the people but the threat of the spread of the pandemic persisted. “Each individual must take responsibility as that is the only way to ensure protection against the disease.
On Tuesday, Umar had warned that the government would have no option but to impose a complete lockdown again if people failed to “act in a responsible and cautious manner” in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Similarly, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah also said at a press conference that citizens’ lack of seriousness had compelled the provincial government to reconsider imposing the restrictions again.
The government had eased the lockdown on May 9 and issued comprehensive SOPs for the businesses. In the first phase, small markets and shops in residential localities were allowed to reopen from Sehri time till 5pm. Under the SOPs, social distancing must be observed at markets.
(With input from our correspondents in Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Lahore)