ISLAMABAD/LAHORE - The National Command and Operation Centre Monday decided to broader lockdowns for the containment of coronavirus pandemic with stringent enforcement protocols based on risk assessment.

During Monday’s session held under the chairmanship of Minister for Planning  Asad Umar, the forum expressed grave concern over current COVID-19 situation in the country.

To contain the disease spread in cities with positivity greater than eight percent, the forum unanimously agreed for closure of all type of indoor dining, however outdoor dining permitted till 10:00 pm and takeaways will be allowed.

It also decided the closure of all commercial activities that include less essential services by 8:00 pm.

The forum decided that two safe days per week will be observed and choice of days will be at the discretion of Federating Units.

Under other decisions taken by the forum, complete closure of Cinemas Shrines will continue to be enforced and 50 percent work from home policy will continue. For strict adherence of COVID SOPs, there would be complete ban on contact sports, festivals, cultural and other events. Only outdoor marriage functions till 10:00 pm with upper limit of 300 guests are allowed.

These new restrictions are imposed at a time when the country has been reporting more than 3,000 Covid-19 cases for the fifth consecutive day and the hospitals are seeing influx of coronavirus patients.

Last Thursday, as many as 3,495 Covid cases were reported which were the highest number of cases in a single day during the current year as earlier 3,795 cases were reported on December 6, 2020.

“In the NCOC meeting this morning we decided to increase restrictions of activities contributing to sharp increase in Covid positivity,” said Umar said in a Twitter post after the meeting. He further said that the provincial authorities and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Administration were also directed to tighten implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and launch crackdown on violations which are taking place.

The cities with over 8 percent positivity rate include Peshawar, Swat, Faisalabad, Muzaffarabad, Lahore and Multan. Besides these, Bahawalpur, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Hyderabad are also included in the list. The NCOC meeting that was attended by all provincial chief secretaries via video link expressed grave concerns over current Covid situation in the country and “unanimously agreed” for implementation of “high impact interventions” to contain the disease spread, the NCOC said in an announcement after the meeting. “In cities with positivity less than 8 percent, already imposed NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) will continue to remain enforced based on risk assessment and disease prevalence.”

In those cities and districts where over 8 percent positivity rate has been observed, the meeting decided to implement “broader lockdowns with stringent enforcement protocols based on risk assessment. “No mobility will be allowed (in these areas) except emergencies.”

These restrictions will remain in force till April 11 and NCOC will take a review in its meeting scheduled to be held on April 7. The meeting decided that the forum will also review its earlier decision about closure of schools and abut education sector in its meeting scheduled to be held on March 24.

It was decided that intercity public transport will operate at 50 percent of capacity while rail services will continue to operate at 70 percent of seating capacity. The forum stressed that compulsory mask wearing be ensured by all federating units while incorporating innovative measures for enforcement.

There will be reduced presence at courts including city, district, high courts and Supreme Court.

The forum also asked for implementing stringent protocols for tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and tourist places elsewhere. This will include establishment of sentinel testing sites at entry points and selected locations. It proposed mass media coverage highlighting punitive actions.

According to the latest data shared by NCOC, the country reported 3,669 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours with overall positivity rate of 8.63 percent. As many 20 more deaths were reported during the same period of time. Punjab reported highest numbers of infections as 1863 were recorded. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported the second-highest number of new infections at 792 while Islamabad recorded 672.

Decision on educational institutions opening on Mar 24

Federal Minister for Education, Professional Training, National Heritage and Culture Shafqat Mahmood on Monday said that the third coronavirus wave is serious and it requires a careful decision. All education/ health ministers will meet on Wednesday, March 24 at the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), to take a decision regarding opening or further closure of educational institutions, he announced.

He said this in a meeting with business community and later talking to the media here at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Monday.

The federal minister said that closure of educational institutions was a difficult decision as the previous lockdown had already caused heavy loss to the students. He said that closure of educational institutions shifted the focus of students, adding that Ministry of Education wanted to open educational institutions.

About the Single National Curriculum (SNC), Shafqat said that it would improve educational standards for Pakistanis across the country irrespective of their socioeconomic class. It would eliminate individualism as well as bring about equality and help get rid of division in society. “We have prepared it keeping in mind modern standards of education,” he added.

About the reservations of the publishers, the minister said that a committee had been constituted in that regard which had resolved a number of issues already. Further development would be witnessed soon, “as we want to support the publishers”.

He said that the government had started a programme worth Rs 10 billion to impart the latest skills training to 170,000 people. He said that National Accreditation Council had also been formed to register and grade the technical educational institutions and genuine ones would be supported. Shafqat Mahmood said that the next target was to impart modern training to teachers to meet the needs of the global standards.

Vaccine permissible under Islamic law

Special Representative to Prime Minister on Religious Harmony and Middle East Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi Monday urged people to take coronavirus vaccine without any fear to save the lives of themselves and their dear-ones.

Addressing a press conference along with other ulema here at Muttahida Ulema Board office, Seerat Centre, he said that all ulema and religious scholars were united that every person must take coronavirus vaccine. He said that Saudi Arabian religious scholars and ulema also issued a Fatwa in this regard.

He urged every person who offers prayers in any mosque to take precautionary measures and follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Earlier, Dar-ul-Afta Pakistan declared the vaccination against coronavirus as legal and permissible in accordance with Shari’ah stating that corona vaccine was needed to prevent the on-going pandemic.                                                       

The Fatwa stated that it is responsibility of every individual to administer vaccination against Coronavirus. Islamic law commands to protect oneself and others from harm, and it is absolutely not right to spread rumours about the corona vaccine.

The leading Religious Institutions in the Islamic world, including Darul Iftaa, Saudi Arabia, Majma Al-Fiqh Al-Islami Jeddah, Darul Iftaa Egypt, declared to administer coronavirus vaccine as Shariah obligation so one can ensure his safety as well as of others.

Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi said the fatwa was issued after a series of meetings chaired by the Imam of the Kaaba, Sheikh Saleh bin Hameed, at the Islamic Jurisprudence Council in Jeddah, which operates under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.