Pakistan imposes Eid holiday shutdown as virus cases soar

Businesses, restaurants and markets closed and public transport suspended

Shopkeepers sit outside in a market in Rawalpindi after Pakistan imposed a nine-day nationwide shutdown on May 8, 2021 to prevent a surge in Covid-19 cases during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Fitr. AFP
Shopkeepers sit outside in a market in Rawalpindi after Pakistan imposed a nine-day nationwide shutdown on May 8, 2021 to prevent a surge in Covid-19 cases during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Fitr. AFP

Pakistan on Saturday began a nine-day shutdown affecting travel and tourist hotspots to prevent a surge in Covid-19 cases during Eid Al Fitr.

Already battling a third wave of infections and increasingly nervous about the crisis across the border in India, the government has imposed the most severe restrictions since a one-month lockdown in April last year.

“These measures have been necessitated by the extremely dangerous situation which has been created in the region with the spread of virulent mutations of the virus,” Planning Minister Asad Umar, who is leading the government response to the outbreak, wrote on Twitter.

Many Pakistanis travel and visit domestic tourist spots during the Eid celebration at the end of Ramadan.

Last year the country had a sharp rise in cases in the weeks after the Muslim holy month.

Businesses, hotels and restaurants will close, as will as well as markets and parks, while public transport between provinces and within cities has been halted.

The military has been mobilised to monitor the restrictions.

Mosques, however, which have been packed each night throughout Ramadan, with few people wearing masks, will remain open. Authorities fear curbs on places of worship could ignite confrontation in the deeply conservative Muslim nation.

Pakistan has recorded more than 850,000 infections and 18,600 deaths, but with limited testing and a ramshackle healthcare sector, many fear the true extent of the disease is much worse.

Health officials have said hospitals are operating at close to capacity and they have rushed to increase the number of intensive care beds.

International flights have been slashed and border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan closed, except for trade.

Flights and land crossings with neighbouring India were closed before the pandemic because of political tension. The country is now reeling from a devastating outbreak, with hundreds of thousands of new cases a day.

Pakistan, which has immunised only a fraction of its population, received its first batch of 1.2 million AstraZeneca doses on Saturday under the Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme.

Updated: May 8, 2021 10:59 PM

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