Pakistan makes masks mandatory in public as coronavirus second wave sets in

A staff member checks the body temperature of students at the entrance of the Islamabad Model College of Commerce for Girls in Islamabad on September 15, 2020 after the educational institutes were reopened nearly six months after the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 28 October 2020

Pakistan makes masks mandatory in public as coronavirus second wave sets in

  • 80 percent disease spread and increased positivity ratio in 11 major cities across Pakistan, NCOC says
  • People visiting a public place without a facemask can be arrested after authorities in Islamabad impose Section 144 for two months

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which leads coronavirus mitigation efforts across the country, announced on Wednesday that wearing masks in public places would now be mandatory.
The NCOC’s decision comes a day after Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, Dr. Faisal Sultan, formally announced a second wave of the coronavirus in Pakistan, warning that imposing restrictions once again had become “inevitable.”
According to a government portal, 330,200 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Pakistan so far, and there have been 6,759 deaths.
“Wearing of face mask is mandatory while moving out of homes in closed places with large crowds and public areas,” the NCOC said in a statement. “Wearing of face mask is must in all offices both govt and private sector.”
NCOC also directed provincial government to ensure that masks were worn “particularly [in] bazaars, shopping malls, public transport and restaurants.”
“80 percent disease spread and increase positivity ratio in 11 major cities across Pakistan,” the NCOC statement said.
Local media reported that 4,374 lockdowns had been imposed in 11 cities, including Quetta, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Peshawar, Islamabad, Hyderabad, Mirpur, Karachi, Gilgit and Muzaffarabad.
Islamabad’s Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat also issued a notification in his capacity as district magistrate on Wednesday, imposing Section 144 in the federal capital for two months and announcing that anyone visiting a public place without a facemask could be arrested by the police.
In August, the government announced that virtually all sectors in Pakistan shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus would be reopened that month, other than schools and marriage halls, which opened in September. Since then, there has been a slow uptick in infection numbers.
“A few weeks ago we were getting 400 to 500 cases per day, but now it has increased to 700 to 750 cases,” Sultan, the de facto health minister, said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “The mortality rate has also increased. Another ratio which is considered is percentage positivity [number of positive cases in samples of 100] which remained less than two percent, but now it has reached close to three percent.”
Lamenting that people were not following coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs), Sultan said it had now become “necessary to strictly implement” restrictions.
“We will start it from local level,” he said. “In districts where the disease is more rampant we will start from there. Focus will be on those areas which have been badly hit by the virus. We are deliberating on the restrictions but district administrations have been advised to impose fines on buses, wedding halls, restaurants and other crowded areas.”
He said the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which leads coronavirus mitigation efforts, would deliberate setting shorter work timings for businesses to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“A mechanism is being devised to get complaints from the masses,” the health chief. “People will be requested to register complaints regarding violation of SOPs. On Wednesday (today), we will discuss it with the provinces to finalize the proposals.”


Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 29 November 2020

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.