KARACHI: Pakistan’s most densely populated megacity was deserted on Wednesday after the provincial administration of Sindh shut shopping malls, restaurants, government offices and public parks to stop the spread of coronavirus, which has affected 289 people in the country.
“Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, in order to stop the spread of coronavirus by limiting social contact, has taken a drastic decision under which all restaurants, shopping malls, food streets, sea-view parks and government offices, except those offering essential services, will remain closed for the next 15 days all over Sindh,” a handout issued by the provincial government on Tuesday evening said.
It also added that restaurants across the city would be allowed to offer home delivery service.
The chief minister set up a coronavirus relief fund worth 3 billion Pakistani rupees ($18,910,000), saying that he would donate his one-month salary to it.
“The coronavirus has started spreading through social contact in the city and other areas of the province. If we fail to take strict measures in time, it is bound to affect the entire province of Sindh and then our health facilities will not be adequate to provide medical treatment to these people,” Shah said while announcing his decision to lock down the provincial capital.
On the second lockdown level, say the authorities, the Sindh administration has also decided to close outpatient departments in hospitals across the city.
All major markets of the city and restaurants remained closed while only light traffic was observed during the day due to the suspension of business activities.
“The decision will affect millions and it will create a situation of hunger,” Umar Qasim, owner of the Lal Qila Restaurant said, adding that thousands of daily wagers were directly or indirectly associated with major restaurants in the city.
He continued that the government needed to find a creative solution to the problem, arguing that suspension of commercial activity, much like the spread of coronavirus, posed a threat to people’s lives.
President of the Electronic Market Association Rizwan Irfan said that instead of a complete lockdown, the government should have specified market timings.
“How can you close markets for such a long time?” he asked. “It will shatter the economy and create a condition which will be more dangerous than coronavirus.”
The provincial authorities of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he continued, had minimized social interaction but did not completely shut down businesses.
Irfan also said that the government should have consulted traders before taking its decision.
However, Murtaza Wahab, the Sindh government spokesperson, said that it was not possible to conduct elaborate consultations in a state of emergency.
“We had to take an immediate decision to save people’s lives. No consultation can be done in such circumstances,” he told Arab News, adding that protecting the lives of millions of people was the provincial administration’s priority.
The Sindh government, Wahab said, had taken the best decisions to deal with the pandemic and proactively tackled the situation, which had earned the country praise from world health bodies.
Muhammad Saleem, a vendor whose merchandise is for sale at Zainab Market, said that he had no other means of providing for his family.
“It is a very painful situation,” he said. “If I come here I may get infected, but if don’t I will have no food for my family. Where can we go? What can we do? I am clueless.”