Shops to remain open till 8pm from Monday: NCOC

Covid-19 kills 83, infects 1,531 in a day

ISLAMABAD: Shops will be able to stay open until 8:00 pm five days a week when they reopen on Monday, the government announced on Saturday.

The decision to extend the trading hours was taken during a special session of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) held here to review the implementation of Covid-19 guidelines during the Eidul Fitr holidays.

The move is likely to be welcomed by shoppers who moved online after businesses were closed last week to fight a third peak of the pandemic, and retailers whose finances have been badly damaged by enforced store closures. Shop staff, however, may be less enthusiastic about working late into the evening.

Shops will be able to extend their opening hours to 8:00 pm to help customers avoid peak times and ease transport pressures, officials said.

The announcement came as the Health Ministry registered 1,531 new infections of Covid-19 after conducting 30,248 tests, receiving back a positivity rate of 5.06 per cent. This is the first time the portal reported less than 2,000 infections since March 9, when 1,786 cases were reported. The country also reported 83 deaths in the past 24 hours.

The meeting also decided to resume inter-provincial, intra-city, and inter-city public transport from Sunday. It was further decided to continue running trains with limited, 70 per cent seat capacity to ensure social distancing.

The businesses will also resume their normal operating schedule of 9:00 am to 5:00 pm from Monday. However, the condition of 50 per cent workforce will remain in place.

During the meeting, the NCOC also reviewed and “expressed satisfaction” on the implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) during the holidays.

Advising the public to continue with the implementation of guidelines, the meeting further urged the people to ensure registration by dialing 1166 prior to visiting vaccination centres.

A nationwide partial lockdown to curtail the spread of the contagion disease began at the weekend and will last until next week. All non-essential businesses have been closed, while domestic tourism has been banned.

Officials expressed hope that reducing transmission rates now will not only save lives but also prevent further, more stringent lockdowns. The army has been called in to help ensure the restrictions are being followed, and last week a small fleet of police and paramilitary rangers descended on another normally crowded market. Only the grocery stores were open.

Meanwhile, the registration for people aged 30 and above to receive the Covid-19 vaccine will open on Sunday, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar announced.

The government launched a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive for the general public, starting with older people, in March. The drive began with a focus on the oldest people in the community, generally over the age of 80.

Battling a third peak of the virus, the authorities began the vaccination with Chinese Sinopharm and CanSino jabs.

Private hospitals in major cities are also using the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine that has been imported by a local pharmaceutical company.

The government has also approved the emergency use of Oxford-AstraZeneca and China’s CoronaVac vaccines, but both are yet to be used in the country. The government received its first shipment of AstraZeneca doses through the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) facility last week.

The government is aiming to ramp up the immunisation campaign in the summer and expects to receive 13.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of June.

According to Minister of State for Health Dr Faisal Sultan, the government has so far placed orders for 30 million doses with different companies.

He had last month announced that by the end of June, the government would have a stock of 17 million vaccine jabs but stopped short of identifying the developer.

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