Pandemic protocols: restaurants continue to flout safety rules

Lapses in compliance with Covid-19 guidelines linked to increase in cases


Zulfiqar Baig April 19, 2021
Customers dine at outdoor restaurants at Kohsar Market in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 18, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD:

With the pandemic dragging on interminably, many in Islamabad’s food service industry appear to be increasingly lax in adhering to Covid-19 health and safety guidelines.

While restaurants across the country have been racing to adapt to what is widely known as the new normal of conducting business under stringent safety protocols, many in upscale Islamabad appear to be violating the rules that have been designed to control the super spreader.

According to details gathered by the Express Tribune, almost all of the restaurants situated in F-6, F-7, Jinnah Market, Kohsar Market, and Gol Market are breaching the Covid-19 health and safety guidelines.

“You can walk up to any restaurant and expect them to offer the same service as they did before the pandemic -- that means they can even seat you inside,” said Jamal, a frequent diner.

Since the onset of the pandemic, which has infected more than 69,500 people in the capital, the administration has enforced stringent rules to control the super spreader. The rules, which have been endorsed by local and foreign medical experts, include limiting crowds, social distancing, and wearing face masks. Most of these safety protocols are being flouted at eateries in Islamabad’s posh areas.

When asked about practicing social distancing at restaurants, the irked diner replied: “It is a foreign concept. No one follows any rules and that should explain the increase in the Covid-19 cases.”

Over the past 27 days alone, more than 16,000 people have tested positive for the deadly respiratory disease in the capital.

Hospitals, one medical expert, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity said, might soon be pushed to overcapacity.

While cases continue to rise, the administration believes that the battle against Covid-19 can only be won by changing human behavior. “The pandemic was contained last year, but now the situation is not favorable,” cautioned Hamza Shafqat, who serves as the deputy commissioner in Islamabad.

Shafqat urged the residents to play their role. No battle, he said, can be won without the cooperation of the public. Shafqat said the government was doing everything to prevent the virus from spreading further.

On the other hand, restaurateurs in the capital claim that if they shut their businesses completely, they will not be able to pay their employees. “Strict restrictions will contribute to greater unemployment. Do we need that? questioned Farooq Chaudhry, who is associated with the Restaurant Association of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. “The government vowed to provide free food during the pandemic. I don’t think any of those promises were meant to be kept,” he said.

Defending the government, a senior official said: “We have established Ehsaas Langars across the country. No one starves in Pakistan.” In a stern warning to restaurateurs, he said: “They should comply with the health and safety rules if they want their businesses to flourish.”

Health advice

Commenting on the lapses in compliance with Covid-19 protocols, a senior medical expert said: “Health and Safety guidelines such as social distancing play a very important role in controlling the virus. “I would certainly link the increase in the number of cases with the negligence in compliance.” Even after receiving the vaccine, he cautioned, safety rules will have to be followed for some time to come.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2021.

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