The government will ban air travel for anyone without a Covid-19 vaccine certificate from August 1 and will require all public sector workers to get vaccinated by August 31.
Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, who also heads the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), announced this on Thursday, along with a host of other restrictions, at a joint news conference with Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health (SAPM) Dr Faisal Sultan.
Umar said that from August 1, unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to enter government offices, schools, restaurants and shopping malls. Teachers and students above 18, public transport and retail staff will also be required to get vaccinated by the end of August, he said.
"If you're not vaccinated you can't go to teach at schools and colleges from August 1," Umar said. "We can't put our children's lives at risk just because that you're not ready to get the vaccine," he added.
He said the NCOC set an August 31 deadline for sectors dealing with the public to get their staff vaccinated. The minister said students over 18 years of age, teachers, transporters, government employees, hotel and wedding hall staffers and personnel of law enforcement agencies must get themselves vaccinated before the end of the next month.
Umar said that those who are not vaccinated by August 1 will not be allowed to teach. The NCOC head said the delta, beta, and alpha variants of the virus have all been detected in Pakistan since May. He said the government ramped up its national vaccination drive with over 850,000 doses administered on Wednesday across the country. He said the target is to touch one million doses a day.
Umar elaborated that service sector employees interact with large groups of citizens and can expose them to the virus. “All these sectors are high risk and have been shut down the most in the past. We want your businesses and work to flourish, we do not want to take away your earnings. We are acknowledging your importance, not punishing you”, the minister said to service sector workers.
He emphasised that he wants peoples’ homes, businesses and subsequently the society to flourish. Both Umar and Dr Sultan highlighted the severity of the situation in Karachi.
“Cases are proliferating exponentially in larger cities, especially Karachi. Due to this, hospitals in the city are under visible burden”, Dr Sultan said.
Umar mentioned that the government supports the Sindh government’s initiatives and discussions for a lockdown, promising the provision of all necessary enforcements.
However, the minister reiterated that shutting cities down is not viable in the long term. He recalled positivity rates decreased around Ramazan when enforcements were stricter but shot back up after the restrictions relaxed.
“As soon as the numbers decrease, we start thinking that the virus is finished. However, our actions are directly linked to the spreading of the virus”, Umar claimed. The only solution is to vaccinate against the virus, he maintained.
The SAPM highlighted the proliferation of corona cases within the country. Nationwide there were 4,497 cases reported, with a 7.5% positivity rate, which are “clear increases” from the past few days.
“There is a direct impact on our healthcare system. The number of critical care patients has increased to 3,000 in the past 24 hours”, he said, adding that during better times in June, there were less than 2,000 critical patients.
Umar recalled that Pakistan was one of the first nations to realise that it cannot shut the country down in the face of the pandemic. “The lower classes and labourer’s have to pay the price of a complete lockdown. When the lockdown ends, the virus starts spreading again”, he said.
Umar listed rates of compliance in the provinces, with Islamabad having the highest rate at 56.4 percent. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa came in second with 46.6 percent, followed by Azad Jammu and Kashmir at 42.7 percent. “Gilgit Baltistan is at 37.4%, Punjab at 38%, and Sindh and Baluchistan have the least compliance at 33%”, he stated.