Pakistan began a nine-day shutdown on travel and tourist hotspots on Saturday in an attempt to prevent an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
Already grappling with a third wave of infections and increasingly nervous about India’s cross-border crisis, the government has imposed the most severe restrictions since a month-long lockdown in April last year.
“These measures were made necessary by the extremely dangerous situation that has been created in the region with the spread of virulent mutations of the virus,” tweeted Planning Minister Asad Umar, who led the government’s response to the epidemic. .
Eid, which occurs at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, typically sees the mass movement of people across the country and tourist spots crowded with Pakistanis.
Last year, the country saw an increase in cases in the weeks following the celebrations.
Businesses, hotels and restaurants as well as markets and parks will be closed, while public transportation between provinces and within cities has been cut off.
The army was mobilized to monitor the restrictions.
Mosques, however, which were filled every night during Ramadan – with few people wearing masks – will remain open. Authorities fear that restrictions on places of worship could spark clashes in the deeply conservative Islamic republic.
Impoverished Pakistan has recorded more than 850,000 infections and 18,600 deaths, but with limited testing and a dilapidated health sector, many fear the true extent of the disease is much worse.
Health officials have warned hospitals are running near full capacity and have rushed to increase the number of intensive care beds.
International flights have been cut and border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan closed, except for trade.
Flights and overland crossings with neighboring India – reeling from a devastating epidemic with hundreds of thousands of new cases a day – were closed ahead of the pandemic due to political tensions.
Pakistan, which has so far vaccinated only a fraction of its population, received its first batch of 1.2 million doses of AstraZeneca on Saturday as part of the delayed Covax global vaccine sharing program.
© 2021 AFP