Sindh, Centre lock horns on lockdown

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The Sindh government and the federal government traded barbs on Saturday, the first day of a province-wide lockdown announced by the Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to contain the fast-spreading fourth wave of Covid-19 pandemic.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sindh government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab hit back at the calls from federal ministers Fawad Chaudhry and Asad Umar as well as Sindh Governor Imran Ismail for reconsideration of the lockdown decision.

Rejecting Centre’s criticism, Bilawal warned that the federal government would be held responsible if the Covid situation aggravated in Karachi. Wahab, on the other hand, stressed that the focus should be on encouraging people to cooperate, rather than creating chaos.

Bilawal said that he would hold Prime Minister Imran Khan and other ministers of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) responsible if the Covid-19 situation in Karachi turned deadlier like India, which faced a devastating surge in coronavirus infections.

Responding to Bilawal’s statement, Umar, who heads the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) stressed in a series of tweets that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s strategy to contain coronavirus spread produced “dramatically superior results”.

“Bilawal Zardari says if what happened in India happens in Karachi PM [Imran Khan would be held] responsible. Mr Zardari what you wanted… lock down lock down lockdown,” the minister said in a tweet on his official handle on Saturday.

Umar said that the complete lockdown policy was implemented by India and it caused “devastation” in the neighbouring country. “[It] was done in India & the world saw the devastation. Crores (millions) thrown into poverty from which they have still not recovered. Economy shrank 7%.”

In another tweet, Umar, while recalling a meeting last year, stated that the PPP leader had told him that he believed in “imperial study which had predicted 78 thousand deaths in Pakistan in a single day”. He added: “This is obviously a subject that you do not understand very well. Please do not politicise the Covid response.”

Umar said the government’s strategy to contain coronavirus produced “dramatically superior results”.

“Strategy based on PMIK [PM Imran] vision of protecting both lives and livelihoods, produced dramatically superior results. Indian economy had the worst year since independence and Pak[istani] econ[omy] grew 4%. At the same time Indian per capita Covid mortality is 3 times higher than Pakistan,” he added.

Also on Saturday, Information Minister Fawad and Sindh Governor Ismail called for reconsideration of the lockdown decision, warning that the decision would affect the people’s livelihood.

Wahab, while addressing a news conference defended the decision of imposing the lockdown in Karachi, saying that the issue pertained to public health.

Wahab also announced certain relaxations in the partial lockdown that saw shopping malls and government offices shut. He said the ban on pillion riding in the province was being lifted. “Shops, hotels, wedding halls, or institution violating [Covid] SOPs will be sealed for 30 days,” he warned.

The news conference followed an interview of Information Minister Fawad with a private TV channel in which he said that the Sindh government’s unilateral decision regarding complete lockdown in the province was unconstitutional and it will hit the economy hard.

He said that a curfew-like situation in the country’s economic hub – Karachi – was unacceptable. He asked the Sindh government to immediately lift the complete lockdown on the industrial sector, adding that the provincial government could not take unilateral decisions.

Later, addressing a news conference here at the Governor’s House, Governor Ismail also advised the chief minister to refrain from a complete and curfew-like lockdown in the province and ensure enforcement of standard operating procedures (SOPs) in letter and spirit.

He made it clear that the federation was against extreme steps to contain the pandemic as the national economy could not afford shutting down of industries and business activities particularly in Karachi, the economic hub of the country.

“The Sindh government has neither taken the federal government on board while taking the decision nor it had consulted with other stakeholders, including the trade and industrial community,” the governor said, adding that the decision also violated a relevant Supreme Court judgment.

Responding to the criticism, Wahab said the matters related to humanity should not be turned into a political war. “We must think about saving people from the disease,” he said. “This isn’t an issue of the economy, but of health; the focus should be on convincing people, not on encouraging chaos.”

He pointed out that no one from the PPP issued statements over the announcement of a lockdown in Punjab because those in Karachi could not comprehend the situation in Punjab. “Likewise, those in Islamabad cannot comprehend the ground realities in Karachi,” he said.

Wahab emphasised that the provincial government intended to work with the federal government. He also explained that Chief Minister Shah had spoken to NCOC chief Asad Umar and SAPM Dr Faisal Sultan and “nowhere during the conversation did they object to a lockdown”.

Chief Minister Murad on Friday announced a province-wide partial lockdown following an alarming rise in the Covid cases, particularly in the provincial capital of Karachi. He said that if restrictive measures were not taken, the health facilities would reach the saturation point.

Shah announced that the aim of imposing the lockdown was to reduce pressure on the hospitals and improve healthcare facilities, overcome the spread of the Indian-origin Delta variant, and increase the number of vaccinations.

Meanwhile, the NCOC said in a statement on Saturday the lockdown would not apply to the sectors in the federal domain, adding that the federally administered sectors would also continue to operate in accordance with the Covid-19 SOPs.

The NCOC said that air operations and railways would continue to function as usual as per the coronavirus protocols. “Railways can run passenger trains with 70 per cent occupancy,” the statement added.

The NCOC said instructions had been issued to the federal government’s offices in Sindh to work with a minimum number of workers, while ensuring Covid-19 SOPs. The Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) and related services will also continue to operate as usual, it added. (WITH INPUT FROM APP)

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