| Electricians, plumbers, carpenters, tailors, street vendors allowed to work | Industries to be opened today include export sector, chemical manufacturing plants, cement and fertilizer plants, mines and minerals, plant nurseries, agricultural machinery plants, glass manufacturing plants, veterinary services and bookshops | Six airports to be opened partially

ISLAMABAD                    -                  Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday announced to extend the partial lockdown across the country for the next two weeks with the opening of some sectors.

While talking to media after meeting of National Coordination Committee in Islamabad, PM Imran said, “We made the hard decision of imposing lockdown in the country which was very well implemented due to cooperation of the people.” Consequently, encouraging results are being received with spread of coronavirus slowing down to 30% of the projected target.

He said the government took a number of steps to stop the spread coronavirus in the country, including closure of schools and educational institutions, cancelling 23rd March Parade and PSL and all other official and private functions where people could congregate.

The Prime Minister said ventilators, protective clothing and other gear were reaching the country to meet the demand. However, if the cases spike, the existing equipment will be insufficient. “We are fighting on two fronts. One is containing the spread of coronavirus and second to overcome the unemployment.”

He said daily wagers and other businesses are hurt by lockdown. He said Ehsaas Program, the biggest in the history of the country, is playing a key role in provision of cash relief to daily wagers and poor people.  The program is without any political influence and will help any eligible citizen of Pakistan.

Imran Khan announced to open the construction industry in cities from today as this has the lowest risk factor in terms of coronavirus spread. He said there is consensus between center and the provinces regarding opening the construction sector for providing employment to people. He said an ordinance will be laid out soon to provide big incentives to the construction sector to generate job opportunities.

The Prime Minister said the agriculture sector will also remain open due to upcoming harvesting of wheat.

He said consultation will be held with Ulema of various schools of thought to make preparations for the upcoming holy month of Ramazan.

The Prime Minister while expressing fear of smuggling of dollar and wheat said ordinances are being introduced soon to discourage the practices of hoarding and smuggling. He said strict penalties will be introduced under the ordinances against the people perpetrating these acts.

Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said in Pakistan 96 people have died so far, with an addition of three in the last 24 hours. He said total cases so far are 5716 which is less number due to effective and timely steps taken by the government. He said standard operating procedures of health and safety have been devised for some sectors that are being opened.

Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar said the industries that are being opened include export sector, chemical manufacturing plants, e-commerce, software development and planning, paper and packaging units, industries with labor on site, cement and fertilizer plants, mines and minerals, plant nurseries, agricultural machinery plants, glass manufacturing plants, veterinary services and bookshops.

He said the construction sector will be opened in phases. Those that will be opened in first phase include brick kilns, stone crushing plants and cement factories.

Special Assistant on National Security Division Dr Moeed Yusuf said six airports of the country are being partially opened from today. He said around 35,000 stranded Pakistanis want to return to the country as soon as possible. Moeed Yusuf said our priority is to bring back the Pakistani labour unemployed due to lockdown abroad, released prisoners and Umrah pilgrims in the first phase.   

NCC agrees to open up parts of economy in gradual phases

A review of the COVID-19 outbreak, along with the enforcement of restrictions and its various fallouts, was undertaken at the NCOC with all 4 provinces, AJK and GB.

It was felt that the restrictions need to be extended but certain relaxations related to low-risk economic activities should also be considered. This was to be done with a view to minimising the financial hardship that the restrictions have caused for the lower income segment of the society. The NCOC will continue to assess, review and recommend the sectors of economic activity that can be considered for opening up in the coming days.

In the meeting held at National Command & Operation Centre (NCOC) here on Tuesday, it was mutually decided that all the industries, services and retail of all essential items shall continue to operate. This includes all industrial and commercial entities that are part of the supply chain of food items, medicines, pharmacy, agriculture, fuel, media, banks and philanthropic organisations. The transport of all goods in the country shall also continue to take place without interruption. However, the existing closure/ban on areas of congregation like schools, marriage halls, cinemas, restaurants etc shall remain in place. The restriction on inter-provincial travel shall also continue.

On the recommendation of NCOC, some of the categories of low-risk economic activities were also agreed by the provinces, AJK and GB to be allowed to operate subject to adherence of SOPs. These activities include chemicals manufacturing, ecommerce for export (business process outsourcing, call centres), ecommerce for local/delivery companies (specified items), software development/programming, paper and packaging, industries with labour within premises, cement plants, fertilizer plants, mines & minerals, dry cleaner and laundry services, horticultural and botanical nurseries, manufacture of agricultural implements and machinery, glass manufacturing and veterinary services. This also includes all export industries (subject to verification of orders from TDAP), bookshops/stationary (either home delivery or stand-alone shops).

It was also recommended to the provinces, AJK and GB that individual shops of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, tailors, street vendors would be allowed to open. There were a variety of opinions on this issue and it is recommended that the provinces decide on this issue as per their own judgment and circumstances.

On the issue of the construction sector, there were a variety of opinions that were tabled. The NCOC recommended to the ECC that the sector be opened in sequence/phases with the low risk activities being recommended to open in the first phase starting from 15th April 2020. It has been recommended and agreed upon in the meeting that the supply chain of construction can be opened from the 15th of April. This includes cement plants (already open), brick kilns, stone quarries, bitumen plants, prefab material manufacturer.

 In the light of the variety of opinions on resumption of construction activities and also the phasing/sequencing of this exercise, it has been recommended that the provinces should exercise their own judgment, as per their own circumstances and conditions, on the opening of construction sites in the public or private sector and its sequencing and geographical locations. The opening of the retail outlets/stores of the essential construction materials will naturally be associated with the specific decision by each province to open the construction sites. The construction activities related to the federal PSDP shall be reactivated.

The safety SOPs with regards to the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 for general industries and construction sector were circulated to the provinces and entities during the preceding weeks. It will be the responsibility of the employer to ensure adherence to the SOPs.

The SOPs regarding congregational prayers during Ramzan are being devised in consultation with Ulema of all schools of thought. The government continues to strive to bring back Pakistanis stranded abroad in the safest possible manner. This week, 2,000 stranded Pakistanis will return from different parts of the world. After detailed consultations between the federal and provincial governments, it has been decided that 6,000-8,000 passengers will be brought back from next week. Arrangements are also complete to bring back Pakistanis stranded in Afghanistan through our land borders. The goal remains to continue increasing our capacity of intake so that all Pakistanis wishing to return can do so as soon as possible.

In view of the financial hardships being faced by the public as a result of the restrictions, the NCOC will continue to assess, review and recommend the sectors of economic activity that can be considered for opening up. The risk profile of each sector, international guidelines and practice, local working conditions and enforceability of SOPs are considered. Since the country and the globe is faced with a situation that is developing, periodic reviews shall continue to be undertaken. The need of the hour is to balance and calibrate policy to address the risk of Covid-19 outbreak with the financial hardships faced by the lower income segments and middle class. The above recommendations and guidelines were endorsed at the NCC session held on Tuesday.