June 23, 2020 at 6:38 AM EDT
Pakistan rejects lockdown measures as cases soar
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Pakistan have nearly tripled in the past month, and aid groups are warning of an increasingly dire situation that is forcing hospitals to turn patients away.
Yet after restrictions meant to contain the pandemic earlier this year drove millions of Pakistanis toward hunger and starvation, the country’s government is instead pushing to reopen its battered economy.
Government officials have called on Pakistanis to wear masks but rejected calls for a lockdown, fearing that it could force the country into economic collapse. Shopping malls and most businesses are now fully operational, as is public transit.
Although government officials never ordered a countrywide shutdown, most Pakistani provinces were under strict measures until early May. At a news conference Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan said those efforts created an “unprecedented situation” in the economy that cannot be repeated.
Khan instead reiterated efforts to impose “smart lockdowns” targeting hot spots and focus a response on the sick and elderly and those with preexisting conditions.
Opposition parties and many doctors have said the recent surge in cases can be traced to the government’s decision last month to lift restrictions before the Eid holiday, allowing people to shop in crowded markets.
More than 185,000 people have been infected and upward of 3,600 have died, according to figures shared by the Health Ministry on Tuesday. The International Rescue Committee said conditions are bound to worsen without additional support, particularly for Afghan refugees and the poorest Pakistanis.
“Pakistan needs help to beat this deadly disease,” said Adnan bin Junaid, the aid group’s Pakistan country director.
Many people live in overcrowded homes with limited access to water and sanitation, he said, making it nearly impossible for them to practice social distancing and protect themselves from the virus.
Armus reported from Washington.
By Shaiq Hussain and Teo Armus
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