(June 25, 2020) On June 13, 2020, the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, announced in a televised address to the nation that a “smart lockdown” strategy would be imposed on certain hot spots across the country “as people’s indifference to the pandemic was jeopardising the lives of old and chronically ill people.” He emphasized in the speech that “strict monitoring would be done to ensure that people follow” guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs), adding that “the government would get tough on the violators” and that all premises that caused the spread of the deadly virus would be sealed. The following day, the federal minister for planning, development, and special initiatives warned that “the coronavirus cases could surge to 1.2 million by the end of July if strict action was not taken against the violators of guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the government to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
In early May 2020, Pakistan’s provincial governments began the phased lifting of the country’s national lockdown in coordination with the federal government. The lifting of the lockdown allowed the reopening of business and shops and placed the responsibility of following physical distancing and hygiene guidelines on citizens. The federal government pointed to the economic toll the lockdown had taken on day laborers and the poor as justification for lifting the lockdown. The lockdown was imposed about two weeks before the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and since its imposition there has been a surge in cases and a rise in deaths. Doctors and medical experts were also calling on the government to reimpose restrictions, such as limiting religious gatherings and crowds in shopping areas, and emphasize social distancing.
On June 10, it was reported that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had “express[ed] concern over the hasty lifting of restrictions” and stated that because Pakistan “did not meet any of the prerequisites for opening of the lockdown” owing to its “high positivity rate,” the WHO was recommending that the provinces impose intermittent two-week lockdowns—implementing a “two weeks off and two weeks on strategy.” Pakistan has reportedly seen the fastest growing rate of infections in recent weeks but “a lower observed mortality rate from the coronavirus than European and other countries that have been hard-hit by the virus.” As of June 24, the official government figures are 188,926 confirmed cases and 3,755 deaths.
Smart Lockdown Strategy
The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) undertook a “comprehensive review” of potential COVID-19 clusters and, on June 15, identified 20 cities in the country that were “high risk areas which are reporting large numbers of coronavirus cases.” On June 22, Al-Jazeerah reported the prime minister’s special assistant on health and head of the Federal Ministry on Health told legislators at a briefing that “these areas would be targeted for limited locality-based lockdowns” and that “[d]ue to the current economic situation, it is impossible to implement complete lockdown in the country. However, the government [is] focusing on [a] smart lockdown policy.”
These cities were identified as having a “likely increase in ratio / speed of infection” that required “restrictive measures for containment of Covid -19.” A “testing, tracing and quarantining (TTQ)” strategy is being employed as part of the containment strategy. According to a government press release, “TTQ is aimed at identifying disease spread, focused clusters/hotspots to enable targeted lockdowns and need-driven resource optimisation at all levels. The TTQ strategy has been formulated to keep the spread of the disease in check while different sectors open up. The TTQ strategy involves ramping up of testing, rapidly tracing the contacts of confirmed positive cases, and effective quarantining of positive and suspected cases.” The government believes that the smart lockdown strategy is a “balance between life and livelihood being pursued” and “while businesses must remain open, strict implementation of SOPs will be ensured through awareness and administrative actions.”
Lockdowns were implemented on June 16 through provincially issued orders and regulations. The province of Punjab has announced that it has “decided to impose [a] lockdown in areas with potential Covid-19 hotspots in seven cities of the province”—namely, the cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, Sialkot, and Gujarat. Police would be deployed at “the entry and exit points of the areas to be placed under restrictions while Army and Rangers would be on standby.” In the major city of Lahore in Punjab, an order was issued by the Home Department under section 144(6) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, which grants the provincial government the authority to issue orders in the public interest to impose a ban on certain activities to prevent “danger to human life, health or safety.” Under the order the hotspot/closed areas in the city are identified, and certain exempted persons and businesses, such as grocery stories, pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals, are specified. Also specified are further restrictions for these areas, such as the closure of all markets, shopping malls, restaurants, and offices, and a ban on all gathering in these areas. Under the order, the lockdown is to last from June 16 to June 30, 2020. A news report, however, has pointed to challenges of implementing and enforcing the lockdown in Punjab province because police are uncertain whether to arrest lockdown violators and people taking advantage of the many exemptions under the order.
On June 17, Dawn news reported that 904 lockdowns had been imposed in Punjab; 26 in Sindh; 572 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; 29 in Azad Kashmir; 10 in Islamabad; and 5 in Gilgit-Baltistan. Around the country government authorities are attempting to ensure compliance with health guidelines and SOPs, particularly in workplaces and in industrial sector and transport markets and shops.”