Federal Minister for Development, Planning and Special Initiatives Asad Umar announced on Tuesday the lifting of additional non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) in 18 of 24 districts where the restrictions were enforced earlier this month in the wake of high coronavirus prevalence.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Umar, who also heads the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) — the nerve centre of the country’s Covid-19 response — said the decision had been taken after a decline was observed in coronavirus cases in the said districts.
Residents in these districts would now have to comply with Covid-19 restrictions as in the rest of the country and no additional curbs, he said.
The NCOC had enforced additional curbs in districts of Punjab, Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Islamabad on September 4. The restrictions included a ban on indoor gatherings, closure of indoor gyms, ban on intercity transport and closure of educational institutions.
Initially, the restrictions were to remain in place till September 12, but were later extended till September 15.
However, Umar said on Tuesday, the additional restrictions were being lifted in 18 districts earlier than planned after a decline was observed in coronavirus cases there.
Changes in Covid curbs
Intercity transport allowed with 50pc occupancy
Schools to reopen with 50pc attendance
Outdoor dining allowed until midnight
Gyms and amusement parks to open for fully vaccinated citizens
Restriction lifted on outdoor gatherings of up to 400 guests
Meanwhile, the minister added, in six districts — Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujrat, Sargodha and Bannu — where the prevalence of Covid-19 remained comparatively higher than the rest of the country, additional restrictions would remain till September 15 but with some changes.
Elaborating on changes in the restrictions, he said intercity transport would be allowed with 50 per cent occupancy, schools would reopen with 50pc attendance, outdoor dining would be allowed till midnight but there would be a complete ban on indoor dining and gyms and amusement parks could allow entry to fully vaccinated citizens. He further stated that amusement parks would be allowed to operate at 50pc capacity.
The minister added that outdoor gatherings of up to 400 guests will be allowed in the six districts, but indoor gatherings would be prohibited.
The minister further announced that Covid-19 restrictions elsewhere in the country were being extended till September 30 — the deadline for eligible individuals to get fully vaccinated.
More restrictions on unvaccinated
He said that while the pandemic situation seemed encouraging as there had been a decline in coronavirus cases, vaccination needed to be paced up.
He recalled that the authorities had set a target of vaccinating 40pc of the eligible population in 24 big cities of the country by the end of this month, adding that that “target may be difficult but not impossible”.
“If we meet the target, we would be able to further relax restrictions by the end of September,” Umar said. “[And] this is the only way out.”
He added that authorities intended to gradually lift restrictions so that life could return back to normal.
And for that, the minister said, the government would impose more restrictions in times to come on individuals who would not get vaccinated.
“If they will not get vaccinated till September 30, they will be restricted from entering schools, will not be allowed to travel by air, will not be allowed entry to shopping malls, cannot get bookings at hotels and guest houses and will be barred from attending indoor and outdoor gatherings,” Umar warned.
Giving Islamabad’s example, he said the city had a population of over two million and 62pc of it had been fully vaccinated.
“It this can be achieved in Islamabad, it can in other cities as well,” he said, appealing to citizens to get inoculated and requesting provincial governments and relevant federal government departments to expedite the process of vaccination.
“We were praised for the way we handled the pandemic and we have to adopt the same approach for vaccination,” the minister added.
Earlier, he said the demand for oxygen for medical purposes had increased in the country over the past few weeks amid the fourth wave of the pandemic.