ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday announced to suspend political gatherings and rallies across the country as part of his government’s measures to contain the spread of second wave of Covid-19.

“We have decided to suspend rallies countrywide and we [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] have suspended our own [rally] and would ask others [parties] to do the same because it [rallies] is such a place where the infection spreads speedily,” said the PM in his televised address after a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC).

The PM said that NCC has decided to close every activity in the country, which does not affect the businesses and the livelihoods of the people, to tackle the virus. He announced that the ruling PTI was suspending its rallies across the country with the cancellation of an upcoming event in Rashakai area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), in line with the NCC decision. He added that virus had sharply spread in Gilgit-Baltistan after the recent election campaign there. 

Announcing the decisions of the NCC, chaired by the premier himself, to contain further spread of the infection in the country, the PM said that a ban on all outdoor gatherings of more than 300 persons is to be implemented. The weddings will be allowed only in open areas, with a maximum of 300 people and everyone would ensures wearing a mask and maintaining distance. “The virus spreads speedily in marriage halls,” he said adding that they had come to know this after conducting tests of Covid-19.

He said that NCC has decided to keep restaurants open for now, but the businesses will be required to ensure social distancing.

PM Imran Khan also announced that it has been decided not to shut shops and factories in the country and anything that “affects people’s livelihoods.” He, however, urged that all businesses must follow the recommended standard operating procedures (SOPs) to contain the spread of virus.

He said the government would monitor the implementation of SOPs and the Corona Relief Tiger Force will be directed to report any violations.  

Weddings allowed only in open areas

“About schools, we have decided to monitor the situation for another week. If we observe that the virus is spreading through schools, then we will extend winter vacations and cut summer vacations short to a month.”

The prime minister urged the masses to ensure implementations of the SOPs saying that “the situation is a test for the country and the entire world.” He added that if they took measures together as a nation in this winter, as they did earlier, they would be able to not only save lives but also keep their economy and businesses running to ensure that unemployment doesn’t increase in the country.

At the same time, the PM warned that Covid-19 cases in Pakistan had increased by four times in the past two weeks. “The 6 to 7 deaths that we were seeing per day have risen to 25,” he said. He also said that there were fears that hospitals in major cities would be full like in June if people didn’t follow the SOPs.

He said the easiest safety precaution that everyone must take is to wear a face mask when out in public, which can help slow the spread of the virus.

He said that the entire world was witnessing a second wave of the virus and the infection had surpassed than the first wave in some countries like US and UK. While some western countries are imposing lockdowns again to control the virus’s spread, he added.

The PM reminded that Pakistan had been very lucky during the first wave of Covid-19. “We were specially blessed by Allah. We are a very lucky nation; look at Iran and India,” he said adding that they had managed to avoid the damage that coronavirus caused to other countries.

“For instance, India suffered a huge loss because of the kind of lockdown they imposed because as soon as lockdown is imposed, everything faces closures,” he said adding that the neighbouring country still has not been able to recover from it.

PM Imran Khan said that Pakistan recovered after the first wave because they took precautions early and the people followed SOPs when the businesses had started opening up after the lockdown.

He said the biggest example of this was that Pakistan was the only country in the world that kept its mosques open during Ramazan. “The virus didn’t spread from the mosques because our imams and Ulema urged worshippers to follow SOPs by wearing masked and keep social distancing,” he added.

“The time has come that we have to follow SOPs in mosques and in factories,” he also said.

Earlier; the NCC, the highest level forum in the country to take measures to contain the spread of virus, took these decisions announced by the PM with the focus on the highest risk activities for spread of Covid-19, while ensuring minimizing the impact on economic activity.

The NCC that was attended by key federal ministers and all other stakeholders also decided that indoor dining will be allowed for now but will be reviewed after a week. In the meantime, the public is strongly encouraged to use either outdoor dining or takeaway options, the NCC said adding that this was in view of the high risk of transmission of the virus in closed indoor settings, especially when masks are taken off during eating.

The forum decided that the option of early/extended winter vacations will be reviewed in a week’s time in consultation with provinces and federating units and Federal Ministry of Education.

The meeting urged the need to use masks in all closed and crowded spaces and its enforcement by local authorities as previously decided.

On the other hand, as many 2,128 people tested positive for the deadly virus on November 15 while 19 people lost lives due to Covid during last 24 hours, according to the latest figures released by the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC).

According to details, there are total 28,048 cases of active Covid in the country as of November 16 while total 29,511 tests were conducted on last Sunday.