As soon as the government decided to relax restrictions that it set to curb COVID-19, the people teemed the markets. In the process, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that the government instructed everyone to follow were thrown out the window. Over the last few days, we have witnessed the worst forms of violations of SOPs. While shopkeepers flouted them to make some quick money, the buyers did so to do Eid shopping. The latest news that the government has sealed some markets in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore was the natural outcome of the people’s failure to follow SOPs.

Regrettably, neither the shopkeepers nor the people try to understand the gravity of the situation. Lifting restrictions does not mean that the danger has gone away. It is still there; the increase in the rate of COVID-19 cases indicates that the outbreak is accelerating. The government was left with no other choice but to seal the markets in these cities with thousands being found positive daily. Action on the part of the government was much needed as the country is going through a health emergency. While the traders tried to blame the state for the SOP violations, their arguments did not hold water. The government cannot assign an official per shop to ensure that people and businesses follow safety measures; traders and the public have to take some ownership and be responsible as well. Failing that, sealing markets is the only decision left with the state.

The government had already warned the people that the violation of precautionary protocols might prompt it to enforce a complete lockdown. Now it is up to the people; if they want to enjoy the ease in lockdown or a complete halt in business activities can only be judged by how seriously they treat the SOPs. The state, it is clear, cannot afford even a slight display of negligence. As the coronavirus curve becomes steeper, the authorities cannot and must not allow risking people’s lives by ignoring the violations of SOPs. Hopefully, sealing markets will imbibe some sense in people to follow precautionary measures.