A health worker prepares to inoculate a woman with the jab of CanSino vaccine at a vaccination camp held in Islamabad on Wednesday. AFP
Tariq Butt, Correspondent
The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Wednesday announced the lifting of a number of restrictions imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus in Pakistan, including the staggered reopening of educational institutions in districts where the positivity rate is less than five per cent and resumption of outdoor dining.
The NCOC reviewed the existing non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) in a meeting chaired by Minister for Planning and Development and NCOC head Asad Umar. The meeting was also attended by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health (SAPM) Dr Faisal Sultan, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho as well as all the chief secretaries of all provinces, Islamabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB).
People are seen at the registration counter before getting inoculated with the jab of CanSino in Islamabad. AFP
According to an official statement issued after the meeting, outdoor restaurants will be opened daily till 11:59pm while takeaway will be allowed 24/7 from May 24; tourism sector will be reopened under strict COVID-19 protocols from May 24; educational institutes in districts with less than five per cent positivity rate will be reopened from May 24; outdoor marriage ceremonies will be allowed with a maximum of 150 people from June 1; elective surgeries will be reopened from June 1; educational institutes in all districts will be reopened in a staggered manner from June 7; all matriculation and intermediate exams will be held after June 20; all professional and non-professional exams will take place on a case-to-case basis as recommended by the Ministry of Education.
Workers of wedding halls and hotels stage a protest to demand the government to allow them to resume their activity in Karachi. AFP
Certain restrictions will remain in place. These are: all shrines, cinemas, amusement parks and indoor gyms will remain closed. Tracks for walking and jogging will be allowed to remain open with strict adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs); indoor dining will remain closed; all contact sports, festivals, cultural, musical and other events will be banned; all types of indoor and outdoor gatherings, including religious events will be banned; and inter-provincial public transport will remain suspended on the weekends from May 22.
The NCOC also decided to reopen the Gadani and Misri Shah industries from May 20. The forum urged compliance on wearing masks and said broader lockdowns would be implemented with stringent enforcement protocols based on risk assessment.
Meanwhile, the current policies for inbound travel and Land Border Management would continue, the release stated.
Health workers carrying vaccine carriers arrive as people wait for their turn to get inoculated in Islamabad. AFP
The NCOC said a detailed review of the NPIs would be held on May 27 and June 7, adding that monitoring of disease prevalence and critical healthcare system was being carried out daily. "Necessary steps will be taken accordingly, whenever deemed appropriate to control the disease spread," the forum said.
Asad Umar cautioned that while restrictions were being relaxed, there were still 4,500 COVID-19 patients in hospitals on oxygen. "If we immediately try to open a lot of things then God forbid, it might happen that we have to close everything again as we saw in the region."
He made the comments while speaking to the media after inaugurating a mass vaccination centre in Islamabad. "We have to reach our vaccination targets," stressed the minister, adding that the quicker Pakistanis got themselves vaccinated, the sooner it would be possible for the government to lift restrictions and for "us to go towards the normal conditions that we want".
"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.
In the meantime, after reducing the number of inbound flights to 20 per cent as part of measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 from May 5 to 20, Pakistan has also slashed the number of foreign airlines’ flights to 120 per week.
"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 vaccine will be single dose and has been manufactured by the CanSino Biologics whose single dose injectable vaccine is already being used in Pakistan. Nasal vaccines are usually given to children but there will be no age limit for it..."
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The ongoing COVID wave, declared last week, has fuelled concerns over a lack of vaccines, inadequate medical infrastructure and a potential food crisis in the country of 25 million, which has refused outside help and kept its borders shut.