India and Pakistan ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions

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India has allowed a limited reopening of shops in neighbourhoods and residential areas, a month after the nation went into lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, officials said.

The federal home ministry announced on Friday that retail shops could start operations from Saturday with a 50-percent reduction in staff, and enforcing appropriate physical distancing, wearing of masks and gloves during work.

The sale of liquor and other non-essential items will continue to be prohibited, and no shops in large market places, multi-brand and single-brand malls will be allowed to open for business till May 3, when the nationwide lockdown is due to end.

The relaxation also would not be applicable in hundreds of hotspots and containment zones across the country.

India has reported 24,530 cases of the coronavirus and 780 deaths, and authorities are setting up new teams to focus on compliance and implementation of lockdown measures.

Last week, the government allowed resumption of manufacturing and farming activities in rural areas as millions of daily wage-earners were left without work.

Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam, reporting from the capital, New Delhi, said: “Shops being allowed to open is a huge relief to the millions of Indians in non-hotspot zones who own small, stand-alone shops.”

“The Indian government, like many others, say that they are just trying to balance saving lives and livelihood and that is why we are seeing the latest easing of restrictions here,” she added.

‘Smart lockdown’

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Pakistan, the government has extended the nationwide lockdown till May 9.

However, it is switching to a so-called “smart lockdown” from Saturday under which it will implement targeted tracking and tracing of cases while allowing some industrial and commercial activities to begin under safety guidelines.

“Isolating these cases and their contacts will improve our ability to contain the disease alongside allowing the economy to function and people to get employment,” said Asad Umar, Pakistan‘s planning minister, who also oversees the coronavirus national response body.

“This upcoming month of Ramadan will be decisive,” he said, emphasising that adhering to the government’s virus containment measures will allow other parts of the economy to restart.

Pakistani Muslims perform the first Tarawih prayer on the eve of the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan while maintaining physical distancing in Peshawar [Hussain Ali/Anadolu]

Prayer congregations for Ramadan have also been allowed in Pakistan with the exception of the southern province of Sindh, where doctors have warned the virus could spread rapidly.

In Karachi, the capital of Sindh and Pakistan‘s largest city, most mosques were closed to the public for the Ramadan evening prayer gatherings, which began on Friday.

The country’s key medical associations have warned the government of serious consequences if a “complete” lockdown is not imposed.

“Allowing the mass gatherings at mosques or markets may lead to an unmanageable situation as the country’s weak health system is already overburdened,” Qaisar Sajjad, secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), said on Friday.

Pakistan‘s Inter-Services Intelligence service is supporting the government in tracing and tracking people who may have been in contact in with those who test positive for the virus.

As of Saturday, Pakistan reported 11,940 cases of infections, including 253 deaths.

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