Lockdown over, Pakistan's COVID-19 deaths, infections tick higher

ailway workers wearing protective gears measure the temperature and disinfect passengers before they board a train as they return to their hometowns, after Pakistan started easing the lockdown restrictions and allowed to resume passenger trains, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Karachi, Pakistan May 20, 2020. (REUTERS/ File Photo)
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Updated 21 May 2020

Lockdown over, Pakistan's COVID-19 deaths, infections tick higher

  • Death toll crosses 1,000 mark on Thursday
  • For a country of Pakistan's size, levels of testing remains low at around 14,000 a day

ISLAMABAD: COVID-19 infections in Pakistan trended higher in recent days and were approaching 50,000, official data showed, with total deaths crossing 1,000, as the government remained unsure over the consequences of its decision to end the nation's lockdown.
Fearful of the economic and financial impact, and swayed by the acute hardship suffered by millions of poor families, Prime Minister Imran Khan has defended the lifting of the lockdown last week, saying the virus spread has been well below projections.
Education is the only major sector that remains closed.
"The ending of the lockdown doesn't mean the threat is over," Yasmeen Rashid, the health minister of Punjab, the country's largest province, said in an interview on Pakistani television on Wednesday, adding that people needed to adopt safety measures themselves.
How the mostly Muslim nation of 207 million people behaves when the fasting month of Ramadan ends and festivities for Eid begins, which is expected on Sunday or Monday, could influence the course of the contagion.
Usually Eid draws big crowds to malls and shops, and people travel in droves to reach their hometowns. While the government has advised people to act responsibly, and avoid going out for non-essential reasons, there has been little mention of special precautions needed over the festival period.
For a country of Pakistan's size, levels of testing remains low at around 14,000 a day. But Reuters calculations, using official data, suggest the infection rate has so far remained relatively steady, with total infections doubling every 9 to 11 days since April 1.
Doctors and experts fear Pakistan's under-funded and creaking healthcare system if the contagion gathers more pace.
In the first 20 days of May, over 630 people have died, compared to around 380 in the entire month of April, data tabulated by Reuters shows. There were less than 10 deaths in March.
The 32 deaths reported on Wednesday took the total to 1,017, a government website showed, making Pakistan the 25th country worldwide where the toll has crossed a thousand. On Tuesday, Pakistan reported the most deaths for a single day at 46.
Infections on Wednesday were reported at 2,193 - the second highest for a single day - taking the total number of COVID-19 cases in Pakistan to 48,091.
Regardless of the final death toll, Pakistan expects to suffer an awful human cost, as the government expects millions more of its people to fall into poverty.
The International Monetary Fund has forecast Pakistan's economy will shrink 1.5% this year, and the government is expected to miss major revenue and deficit targets, making it more dependent on loans from multilateral lenders. 

Mid-Eastern eateries add to Eid spreads in Islamabad

Updated 25 May 2020

Mid-Eastern eateries add to Eid spreads in Islamabad

  • Owners say home delivery orders increased more than 20 % in Ramadan as netizens crave for Arab cuisines
  • All checks in place to ensure anti-virus measures are being followed during lockdown, restaurants say

ISLAMABAD: Despite countrywide lockdown closing doors of some of the most sought-after restaurants for costumers in Islamabad, Arab cuisines remained a staple at Ramadan & Eid meals for the food lovers, said the restaurant owners.

Employees at Arz Lebanon restaurant in Islamabad enter the restaurant after going through disinfectant spray and temperature scanning on May 20, 2020. (AN photo)

Many Middle Eastern eateries are staying afloat by delivering food at the doorstep as people could not gather for group meals with friends and families under government-imposed restrictions to enjoy a bite of their favorite dishes served in a chic and sometimes traditional ambiance.

With a dedicated delivery service, Arz Lebanon, a medium-sized joint in Islamabad’s upscale Jinnah Super Market has been busy catering to growing home-delivery orders with an exclusive Iftar menu including over 12 different dishes during the fasting month of Ramadan and the Eid festivities.

Staff of Arz Lebanon restaurant in Islamabad is preparing food parcels for home delivery on May 20, 2020. (AN photo)

“We have made Ramadan package this year with a small menu of 12 Arab dishes,” Sheikh Abdul Rauf, the chief chef and owner of Arz Labanon restaurant told Arab News.

“Our famous dishes include mix Arab barbeque, hummus, fatosh, tabbouleh, cheese manakish and harbora,” he added hinting at the popular cravings of Islamabad’s food lovers.

Staff of Arz Lebanon restaurant in Islamabad are taking order for takeaway delivery on May 20, 2020. (AN photo)

He said that a lot of regular customers, both Arabs and Pakistanis, insisted through phone calls to serve them Arab food during Ramadan and on Eid.

The restaurant is among a list of eateries that remained closed for almost one-and-a-half month during lockdown and then thought of a smart comeback, while quite a few still remain closed including popular attractions like Serai Bistro situated at the capital’s diplomatic enclave – serving Lebanese, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food – and Omar Khayyam.

An employee of Arz Lebanon restaurant in Islamabad delivers a takeaway order to a customer on May 20, 2020. The restaurant does not allow customers inside the dining space. (AN photo)

“Before covid-19, the staff at my restaurant was 45 now I am working with only seven employees to maintain social distancing,” Rauf said, adding that they use disinfectant spray for the entire staff before commencing work and also check their body temperature through thermal scanner at least three to four times a day.

“We are serving only takeaways and home delivery orders. I am getting around 70 delivery orders daily which is 20 percent more than usual days and a lot of people come for takeaway as well,” Rauf informed. ” Most of my Arab customers order home delivery these days. We have three vans for this purpose. Pakistani customers take both home delivery and takeaway,” he said.

Another big attraction for the Islamabadians is Syrian ‘Shawarma’ in F-10 Markaz area, prepared in authentic Arab style by Abu Amir aka Adnan who came to Pakistan in 2011 fleeing the complex civil war in his homeland.

Abu Amir, a Syrian Shawarma maker is busy cutting fresh slices of meat for parcels at his food kiosk in F-10 area of Islamabad on May 20, 2020. (AN photo)

“My major dish is shawarma and sheesh taouq while in Ramadan I also started serving basbousa, kunafa and baklava,” Amir told Arab News.

“We provide home delivery through bike-riding services. People also visit us for take-aways,” he said.

Amir said that coronavirus pandemic had adversely affected his business but home delivery increased during Ramadan.

A man at Arz Lebanon restaurant in Islamabad grills kebabs for food parcels on May 20, 2020. (AN photo)

“I used to sell around 450 shawarmas daily before the pandemic but now the number has reduced. On the other hand, request for home deliveries increased from around 30 orders earlier to approximately 100 now a days,” he added.

On the south side of Shawarma guy in F-10 markaz, another home delivery option for Arab food lovers is Al-Beirut kitchen which provides only home delivery order of trending Lebanese and Arab foods. 

“We are providing home delivery only and that also by ensuring all precautions. Our customers are very loyal as we are delivering for the past two decades in Islamabad,” Ahmad Shabbir, the restaurant manager told Arab News. “Business got better in the second half of Ramadan after re-opening of markets,” he added.