Provincial authorities and health experts explored on Saturday the possibility of reopening all businesses, including eateries, as well as educational institutes across Sindh from September 15, in light of the decisions made during a recent National Coordination Committee (NCC) meeting and an apparent decline in Covid-19 cases.
Addressing a provincial coronavirus taskforce meeting, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, while leaning towards allowing the resumption of business activities, clarified that a final decision would only be made after authorities reassessed the situation in the first week of September.
“After a Council of Common Interests meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan had chaired an NCC meeting on August 6 in Islamabad, where it was decided that all businesses, including educational institutes, would reopen from September 15,” he said, adding that the provinces had agreed to reach a final decision on the matter after reviewing the pandemic situation in taskforce meetings.
The CM then sought the opinion of health experts on resuming commercial, educational and social activities, at which the latter proposed that they could be resumed in line with coronavirus-related standard operating procedures (SOPs).
At this, he decided to call another meeting in the first week of September to review the situation, deliberate on the matter and reach a final decision.
“Once we decide to allow the reopening of businesses, the home department will issue a notification in this regard and outline the SOPs for business operations,” he elaborated.
Mulling these guidelines, CM Shah said that if and when business activities resumed in the province, they were to be wound up by 9pm, adding that restaurants, however, could operate until 10pm.
“The timings [for restaurants] may be enhanced on weekends,” he added, stressing that people needed to now work on changing their behaviour and habits to cope with the pandemic. “We need to start our day early and end it latest by 10pm,” the CM urged the public.
Besides, the CM asked Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazl Pechuho to assess whether the field isolation facility at the Expo Centre in Karachi was still required to treat coronavirus patients.
“If you want continue with the facility, go ahead. Otherwise close it down and shift the equipment to other healthcare facilities,” he said.
However, he stated that the Covid-19 hospitals at NIPA and University Road would continue to function and facilities there would be boosted.
‘Pandemic on decline’
The decisions came in the wake of Dr Pechucho telling the meeting that the pandemic situation had been encouraging in the recent days. The number of new infections is on the decline, she said.
In response to this information, the CM noted that a consistent decline in the emergence of new Covid-19 cases was observed over the past 30 days.
“On July 8, 1,782 new cases were reported and the number continued to decrease, going down to 487 on August 7,” he said, while cautioning that this did not mean the pandemic had ended. “But it shows we have to learn to live with the virus until a vaccine is developed.”
Following this, Sindh health secretary Kazim Jatoi read out the World Health Organisation’s recommendations on dealing with the pandemic.
Listing them, he said that the international body had advised to share best practices, apply lessons learned from countries that had resumed business and social activities and where the resurgence of Covid-19 had been mitigated.
Further, countries should sustain political commitment and leadership for national strategies, initiate localised, response driven activities driven by science, data and experience and engage all sectors in addressing the impact of pandemic.
They should also continue to enhance the capacity for public health surveillance, testing and contact tracing; strengthen community engagement, empower individuals and build trust by addressing misinformation and disinformation and providing clear guidance, rationales and resources for public health measures
Moreover, they should engage in Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator – a global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines; participate in relevant trials and prepare for safe and effective therapeutic vaccine introduction; maintain essential health services with sufficient funding, supplies and human resources; and prepare health systems to cope with resources, seasonal influenza, other disease outbreaks and natural disasters.