ISLAMABAD: Planning Minister Asad Umar announced on Thursday that virtually all sectors in Pakistan shut down to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus would be reopened next week, other than schools and marriage halls which would open in September.
In March, Pakistan shut all its schools and land borders and decided to limit international flights and discourage large gatherings to try to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
But with infections and deaths down nearly 80 percent since their peak as per government records, the National Coordination Committee (NCC), the apex body set up to oversee coronavirus mitigation efforts, met on Thursday to decide on measures to help the country return to normalcy.
The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by representatives from all provinces.
"Restaurants and cafes, outdoor and indoor, will be allowed to open from Monday [August 10], and standard operating procedures will be finalised in the next two to three days," Umar told media after the meeting. "When it comes to the recreational sector, which includes public parks, theatres, cinemas, amusement parks and arcades ... these will also be allowed to open from Monday."
He said educational institutions would resume from September 15, pending a final review on September 7.
"Marriage halls can be opened from September 15, and hotels can hold wedding functions," the planning minister said, adding that business centres, expo halls, and beauty salons and spas could open from August 10, when all shops and markets would also revert to their pre-lockdown timings.
“Whatever their [shops] normal operations were … they can go back to the old system,” Umar said.
Tourist destinations will open from August 8 and a ban on riding pillion on motorbikes would be lifted, he said.
However, Umar warned that “the threat is not over.”
“Improvement has happened because we made a clear strategy, which our administrative machinery in the provinces implemented on the ground,” he said, calling the decline in coronavirus cases and the lifting of lockdowns “the success of the Pakistani nation.”
But “if carelessness begins… if we see a change in the attitude of the public … then once again that process of lockdowns” could resume, the minister warned.
International media reported this month a “sharp decline” in coronavirus cases in Pakistan, saying major hospitals had reported beds were freeing up in previously overflowing coronavirus wards, and the tally of patients on ventilators had halved over July.
The success comes even as PM Khan resisted the World Health Organization's advice, declaring in May that lockdowns were too costly for the poor and reopening the economy, opting for “smart lockdowns” only in coronavirus hotspots.
"I appeal to the people," the planning minister said as he announced lifting lockdown restrictions: "that you have to take more precautionary measures than before. We have the experience and we have learned from them."