New coronavirus SOPs in place as restaurants open in Pakistan's Punjab province

People enjoying their coffee in a rainy day in Islamabad on August 10, 2020 after government's decision to open restaurants across Pakistan as the coronavirus cases are declining in the country. (AN Photo)
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Updated 10 August 2020

New coronavirus SOPs in place as restaurants open in Pakistan's Punjab province

  • Customers must sit on alternative chairs, leaving one chair vacant that must be marked with a red cross 
  • Of the 1,000 plus restaurants in Lahore alone, 30 to 40 percent have shut down permanently because of economic losses – says Restaurants Unity Association president 

LAHORE: Pakistan has lifted almost all of its coronavirus restrictions after reporting a decline in active cases and deaths in over a month.
The government has allowed restaurants, beauty parlors, shopping malls, cinemas, parks, museums and the tourism sector to reopen from Monday with strict social distancing rules.
However, wedding halls remain closed till mid-September and a final decision to open schools will be made on September 7, announced Asad Umar, the minister for planning, development and special initiatives, who also heads the central decision-making body for coronavirus in Pakistan, in a press briefing last week.
The confinement measures have been in place since late March, a month after Pakistan detected its first case of the deadly disease. But in early April, the government began rolling back restrictions in a phased manner.

An employee (C) sanitizes the hands of a customer outside a restaurant open for takeaway and delivery services during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Karachi on April 18, 2020. (AFP)

On Sunday, Pakistan recorded 539 new cases of the virus and 15 deaths in a single day, down from its highest tally of over 6,000 cases and 153 deaths on June 19. Separately, it has also dropped from the 11th most-impacted country globally in July to 14th position in August, as per a tally by the US-based Johns Hopkins University.
Still, fearing a spike in infections as people resume social contact, the government has outlined new health guidelines for the reopening.
In Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, which has recorded the second-highest Covid-19 caseload in the country, restaurants must keep dining rooms half-empty.
Under the new rules, customers will have to wear masks, handshakes and hugs will not be allowed, and the menu will not be distributed, states a notification dated August 7 by Punjab’s primary and secondary health care department.

People enjoy their coffee at Kohsar Market, one of Islamabad's favorite meetup areas, Jan. 22, 2020. (AN photo)

Customers must sit on alternative chairs, leaving one chair vacant. The empty chair must be marked with a red cross, ribbon or a “no seating” card, adds the notification.
In order to check that dine-in restaurants do not violate health precautions, the Punjab Food Authority, which regulates food safety and hygiene in the province, will send its team regularly to inspect eateries, a senior health official, who asked not to be named, told Arab News.
However, Amir Rafiq Qureshi, who heads the Restaurants Unity Association, in Punjab’s capital city Lahore, is certain restaurants will follow all health guidelines. But owners, he added, need some “breathing space” to implement new rules.
“I also do hope the administration does not abuse its powers and harass restaurant staff,” Qureshi said, “We have instructed all restaurants in Lahore to keep pictures of inspection teams so we can be sure there is no mishap.”
Even though sit-down dinners have been allowed to open from today, a significant number of eateries did not survive the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Of the 1,000 plus restaurants in Lahore alone, 30 to 40 percent have shut down permanently and will not be resuming business,” he told Arab News, “As a result thousands of people are now unemployed.” 
As for the tourism sector in Punjab, the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to reopen include limiting occupancy of a hotel or guest house to 60 percent, encouraging guests to book online and restricting tourist groups to 10 people, among other measures.

Pakistan opposition draws thousands to capital to protest ruling party’s ‘foreign funds’ case 

Updated 19 January 2021

Pakistan opposition draws thousands to capital to protest ruling party’s ‘foreign funds’ case 

  • The Pakistan Democratic Movement urged the election commission to promptly announce its verdict in the case
  • The interior minister said the opposition alliance failed to attract large number of people to the protest demonstration 

ISLAMABAD: An alliance of Pakistani opposition parties, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), held a protest rally today, Tuesday, outside the election commission which is hearing a case involving alleged illegal foreign funding for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. 

The case was filed in November 2014 by a founding PTI member, Akbar S Babar, who claimed massive financial irregularities in the handling of foreign funds by the party that amounted to about $3 million. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has still not adjudicated the matter, making the PDM leadership criticize it for “the inordinate delay.” 

“Neither is this government elected nor has it any right to rule the country,” the opposition alliance chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, said while addressing the participants of the rally in Islamabad. 

He accused the prime minister of contesting the 2018 elections after taking “funds from Israel and India,” adding that the foreign funding case was pending for the last six years even after a revelation by the State Bank of Pakistan that the PTI had 23 “hidden accounts.” 

Rehman said the ECP had held about 150 hearings in the case, noting that the PTI filed 50 applications for its deferment and that the nation was still awaiting the judgment. 

“Some powerful institutions had occupied the election system and brought an incompetent person to power,” he said. “They are now running the government from behind the scenes.” 

Criticizing the ECP, he said: “If this weak election commission provides them [the ruling party] protection, we won’t be able to trust it in the next elections.” 

Rehman said that no country in the world, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, was willing to trust Pakistan due to the government’s “poor foreign policy.” 

“We will continue our struggle [against the government] within the legal and constitutional ambit,” he added. 

The opposition alliance has frequently accused the PTI of coming into power by manipulating the 2018 elections and promised to dislodge through public support. The government denies the charge of election rigging. 

Addressing the protest demonstration, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Sharif also accused the prime minister of getting funds from India and Israel and using for his 2014 sit-in to overthrow an elected government. 

“Do you know who funded him from India? Bharatiya Janata Party member Inder Dosanjh. And the Israeli who funded him was Barry C. Schneps,” she claimed, adding that “countless” such people and companies from Israel and India had funded the PTI. 

Mocking the ruling party’s statement in the foreign funding case in which it blamed its agents in the US for any possible illegal funding, she asked the prime minister should also reveal the names of the “agents who brought you into power.” 

Lambasting the ECP, she said the election commission was “part of the crime of selecting an unqualified person and bringing him to power.” 

Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior leader Faisal Karim Kundi said that the PTI had admitted that its agents accepted the funds from foreign countries and companies. 

“If the agents had done something wrong, it means that the PTI is involved in it,” he said, urging the ECP to give its judgment in the case. “The verdict will prove which enemy countries had funded the PTI,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Islamabad’s local administration had beefed up the federal capital’s security to avert any untoward incident during the opposition’s protest demonstration. It had deployed over 1,800 security personnel to maintain the law and order besides identifying alternate routes to ensure smooth flow of traffic. 

Responding to the opposition’s protest, Federal Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed termed it a “disappointing and poor” show and claimed that the opposition alliance had failed to attract a large number of protesters to its demonstration. 

“We welcome your long march [toward Islamabad] after this today’s show, and that will be your last show [of power],” the minister said, admitting that the opposition had all the right to address public gatherings. 

He also rejected the opposition’s accusations regarding Israel and India. 

“They [the opposition] were given a free hand [to protest outside the ECP], and they have been exposed,” he said. “We are waiting for their long march now.”