Face masks to be made obligatory in public as Pakistan slowly lifts restrictions

ISLAMABAD: Top Pakistani government officials have hinted at making wearing face masks obligatory in public as the first phase of a gradual ease in relaxations in the coronavirus lockdown sent hordes of people to the markets ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.

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Pakistan’s primary coronavirus monitoring body, National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), and its head, Planning Minister Asad Umar, emphasised on the dire need for people to wear face masks in order to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

Umar said the health ministry had issued directives for the people, making it mandatory for people to wear masks in crowded places.

Separately, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Health, Dr Zafar Mirza, also noted that a notification with regard to wearing face masks in public places would be issued soon, according to a local media outlet.

While it used to be a recommendation by the government, Dr Mirza said the directive was being made obligatory since the coronavirus lockdown had been relaxed.

“We will issue a notification in this regard,” he said, according to the publication.

PM Imran, who was also present with his special assistant during the televised address, had defended the government’s decision to relax the lockdown, saying: “We have to live with the virus this year.”

“If someone had told me with certainty that we need to keep the country locked down for three months and then we will defeat the virus, we could have done it. We would have dedicated all our resources to fighting it and would have tried to ensure food supplies to homes with out volunteers.

“But all the medical experts in the world are saying there are no signs of a vaccine this year […] it means the virus isn’t going anywhere,” PM Imran had said. The rationale behind a lockdown was to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious coronavirus. “But will the virus end with a lockdown?

“We have to live with this virus. This year, we have to make do with the virus.”

‘We do not blindly follow the West’

On the other hand, Umar, the NCOC head, had said earlier in the day the entire world was coming to the same decision on lockdown against the pandemic as PM Imran had earlier envisaged and emphasised in his speeches.

The federal minister had said the government has maintained since day one that it was imperative to save the Pakistani people from financial woes. The countries around the world had started to ease lockdown restrictions as “they started to see what Imran Khan saw two months ago”.

“We do not blindly follow the West and we are not ashamed of it,” Umar had mentioned, citing the example of the UK and saying it saw more deaths than Sweden, which enforced a targeted lockdown.

The minister had also claimed that cases of the novel coronavirus in Pakistan were mounting day by day but the situation was under control. He said data indicated that the disease would not spread quickly enough to overwhelm the entire health system.

The world, including Pakistan, would now have to “co-exist” with the virus, Umar stated, as even China’s Wuhan — the centre and origin of the pandemic — was experiencing new cases despite bringing the situation under control.

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