In a big step towards bringing official, commercial and entertainment activities to pre-Covid normal, mass gatherings are being allowed in the country from March 15. Under a decision taken by the NCOC on Wednesday, there will be no restrictions on holding wedding ceremonies indoors from the mentioned date, with SOPs followed; restaurants will also be allowed to offer indoor dining; cinemas and shrines will be reopened; there will be no time-limit on amusement parks and commercial activities; offices will be allowed to work at full-strength and work-from-home restriction on 50% staff will stand abandoned; and the Election Commission of Pakistan will be free to conduct local bodies and cantonment board elections by the end of May or early June.
The lifting of restriction on mass gatherings will also apply to PSL matches which will now be held with spectators allowed to occupy half the seats in stadiums during round games and to pack them to capacity during play-offs. And with a tweet from Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood — announcing the that all schools across the country will go back to regular five-day classes from March 1 — coinciding with the NCOC decision, it means that the country is all set to get back to regular business from March 15, 2021 onwards.
The decision to lower the guard in the country appears to have been guided by an announcement from the WHO last week that the weekly worldwide tally of reported Covid-19 cases had hit the lowest since October 26, 2020. Reports say that the worldwide cases continued to fall for the sixth consecutive week, with 2.4 million new infections being reported globally which was an 11% decline compared to the previous week.
Strangely though, this big ease in restrictions in the country is happening at a time when the Covid vaccination process in the country has just begun with only the most at-risk population being catered to. Besides, the latest statistics — 1,196 new cases of the infection and 50 new deaths over the last 24 hours, taking the tallies to 574,580 confirmed cases and 12,708 deaths — are still worrying. Hope we are not in a rush to declare victory. All relevant authorities, therefore, needs to remain vigilant lest a spike in the infection should recur, and be ready to bring back the curbs, if need be.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2021.