ISLAMABAD - Taking strict measures to control the rising number of Covid-19 cases across the country in recent weeks, the government yesterday fixed 10pm the closing time for all markets and shopping centres in all cities and made it compulsory for all citizens to wear face masks when stepping out of their homes. The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) made these decisions during its meeting presided over by Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar here.

The directive came a day after the country’s active cases surpassed the 11,000 mark and, according to the authorities, the second wave of the deadly virus has started in the country.

The meeting decided that wearing a face mask will be mandatory in both government and private sector offices.

According to a statement by the NCOC, all the provinces have been asked to ensure that people wear face masks and adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), particularly in bazaars, shopping malls, public transport and restaurants.

Later in a tweet, Asad Umar also said that the NCOC has approved the use of antigen testing in addition to the PCR tests being carried out. “This is part of a strategy to increase the level of testing. The symptomatic cases will all still be administered PCR tests. The decision is in line with the guidelines issued by the WHO,” he said.

Following the NCOC decision, the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration also imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to order wearing of face masks at public places in the federal capital. Deputy Commissioner Islamabad in a tweet also said, “Anyone not wearing them [masks] in public places can be arrested by police.”

On October 23, the NCOC had reported that the average positivity rate of Covid-19 cases rose 40pc over four days. A jump was also seen in hospital admissions and a spike in the number of daily deaths.

According to the NCOC, wearing of face mask is mandatory while moving out of homes in closed places with large crowds and public areas. The NCOC has decided implementation of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) in districts / cities with more than 2 percent positivity as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Hyderabad, Gilgit, Muzzafarabad, Mirpur, Peshawar and Quetta effective from today.

“Strict enforcement of compulsory mask wearing in confined spaces (indoors, public transport, outdoor crowded settings like markets and bus stands, railway stations etc). Implementation of broad based SLDs in hotspot areas. Closure of all commercial activities in markets, shopping malls, marriage halls, restaurants etc at 2200 hours (excluding essential services i.e. medical stores/clinics/hospitals etc),” said the NCOC statement.

The amusement/public parks will be closed by 1800 hours daily, according to the NCOC. It further said that 80 percent disease spread and increase positivity ratio is in 11 major cities across Pakistan. At present 4374 lockdowns are in place across the country with 30610 population under lockdown in 11 cities including Quetta, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Peshawar, ICT, Hyderabad, Mirpur, Karachi, Gilgit and Muzafarabad.