Passengers prepare to board a train to their hometowns ahead of the Eid Al Fitr festivities at a railway station in Lahore on Saturday. AFP
Tariq Butt, Correspondent / AFP
Pakistan on Saturday began a nine-day shutdown affecting travel and tourist hotspots in a bid to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases during the holiday of Eid Al Fitr. Pakistan, which has so far vaccinated only a fraction of its population, received its first batch of 1.2 million AstraZeneca doses on Saturday under the delayed Covax global vaccine sharing scheme.
Already battling a third wave of infections and increasingly nervous about the crisis across the border in India, the government has imposed the most severe restrictions since a one-month lockdown in April last year.
Policemen on horses patrol a beach after restrictions were imposed in Karachi. AFP
"These measures have been necessitated by the extremely dangerous situation which has been created in the region with the spread of virulent mutations of the virus," tweeted Planning Minister Asad Umar, who has been leading the government response to the outbreak. Last year the country saw a spike in cases in the weeks after the celebrations.
Businesses, hotels and restaurants as well as markets and parks will be closed, while public transport between provinces and within cities has been halted.
The military has been mobilised to monitor the restrictions.
Mosques, however, which have been packed each night throughout Ramadan —with few people wearing masks — will remain open.
A small number of motorcyclists ride through a downtown market closed after restrictions were imposed in Peshawar. AP
Pakistan has recorded more than 850,000 infections and 18,600 deaths, but with limited testing and a ramshackle healthcare sector, many fear the true extent of the disease is much worse.
Health officials have warned that hospitals are operating at close to capacity and they have rushed to increase the number of intensive care beds. International flights have been slashed and border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan closed, except for trade.
Flights and land crossings with neighbouring India — reeling from a devastating outbreak with hundreds of thousands of new cases a day — were closed before the pandemic.
People shop at a supermarket in Islamabad. AFP
Pakistan received its first shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines through the Covax facility on Saturday, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) said in a statement.
It said that the first consignment consisted of 1,238,400 vaccine doses and would be followed by an additional 1,236,000 doses in a few days. It added that the doses would serve to support the government's "ongoing historic drive to bring the pandemic to an end."
"Further allocations from June onwards will be confirmed in due course. The goal of the Covax facility is to supply Pakistan with enough doses to vaccinate 20 percent of the population depending on availability,” the statement said.
A girl gets her hand decorated with henna paste at a marketplace in Karachi. AFP
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Faisal Sultan received the consignment at the National Emergency Operations Centre headquarters with representatives from Covax's technical and funding partners.
"In this unprecedented crisis, we appreciate Covax and Gavi’s (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) contribution to the collective effort to fight COVID-19 in Pakistan,” Dr Sultan said.
"We expect the first 10,000 doses to come on March 25, and 100,000 next month and 200,000 the month after," said Hassan Abbas, an official of AJ Pharma, CanSino's local partner, which will be importing the vaccine.
"The forum reviewed the implementation of SOPs during Eid holidays and expressed its satisfaction. It also appreciated the efforts of all stakeholders, especially the cooperation rendered by the public across the country..."
The fresh suspensions were a major blow to a global immunisation campaign that experts hope will help end a year-long pandemic that has already killed over 2.6 million people and decimated the global economy.
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