–NCOC decides not to change SOPs for religious congregations, rejects proposal to partially resume train service
–Education depts of Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh oppose reopening of institutions from June 1
ISLAMABAD: The National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) on Wednesday decided not to change the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for religious congregations — set out in the agreement reached between the government and clerics last month — in the second half of Ramzan, as Pakistan recorded 1,049 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours taking the overall tally to nearly 24,000.
The decision to continue with congregational prayers comes amid repeated warnings by various medical associations that the pandemic could spiral out of control if the government continues to allow public gatherings.
As of Wednesday, there were 23,487 confirmed cases in the country of which 8,640 were reported in Sindh, 8,693 in Punjab, 3,712 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1,495 in Balochistan, 485 in Islamabad, 386 in Gilgit-Baltistan, and 76 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. According to the data, 6,217 patients have recovered from the disease while 544 have died till date.
A meeting of the NCOC, chaired by Federal Minister for Planning and Reforms Asad Umar, also proposed recommendations to ease the lockdown restrictions.
The recommendations included the opening of inter-provincial transportation with proper implementation of SOPs as well as the phase-II of the construction sector, reopening of retail outlets and restarting selective outpatient departments in Islamabad hospitals.
The meeting also proposed to increase the hours for shops to remain open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and then again from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm.
The NCOC, however, rejected the proposal of Pakistan Railways’ to partially resume train service from May 10.
The NCOC’s recommendations will be presented to the National Coordination Committee (NCC) chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 9 for final decision.
In a separate meeting chaired by Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood, a majority of provincial educational departments opposed the reopening of educational institutions in the country from June 1.
According to reports, the education departments of Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh opposed the reopening of the institutions while the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government supported the move.
“The educational institutes should remain closed as the coronavirus cases may drastically increase,” the provinces said in the inter-provincial education ministers’ conference held via video link.
Due to the disagreement between the provinces, it was decided that the matter would be tabled during the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) meeting.
Meanwhile, various media reports have stated that a majority of mosques across the country were ignoring the SOPs for congregational prayers.
A non-governmental organisation claimed that over 80 per cent mosques were found violating the SOPs during taraweeh prayers, contrary to what they had promised the government.
The data released by the NGO showed that in 96pc of the observed mosques, people were found praying on pavements and roads and nearly 89pc of the worshippers did not wear face masks. Besides, in 72pc and 69pc of the observed mosques, the worshippers did not maintain the 6ft distance and were found doing ablution in the mosques. In the few mosques where some distance was maintained, this did not amount to 6ft. In more than two-thirds of the observed mosques, children were also found alongside their elders. The observation was made in Islamabad, Lahore, Faisalabad, Kamalia, Jhang, Layyah, Multan, Toba Tek Singh, Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan, Taunsa, Shorkot, Kot Addu and Alipur.
However, in a statement issued on Tuesday, the Pakistan Ulema Council claimed that a majority of mosque administrations were cooperating with the local authorities in implementing the SOPs.
The statement said that though the ratio of mosques following the SOPs in the urban areas was 70pc, in rural areas over 60 per cent mosques were violating the agreement signed with the government.
Doctors across the country have repeatedly warned that the country’s already fragile healthcare system would collapse if the government allows relaxations in the COVID-19 lockdown.
In a statement, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) Secretary General Dr Qaiser Sajjad said: “I have to say, with all due respect, that our government has made a very wrong decision and our ulema have demonstrated extreme insensitivity [akin to] playing with human lives. This fight is between the coronavirus and doctors, so please listen to us […] You (government and scholars) have held a meeting without including any technical person.”.