Pakistan to ease lockdown even as coronavirus cases rise

A police officer disperses shopkeepers who gathered to reopen their shops in Karachi, Pakistan, on April 27, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan will begin easing its nationwide lockdown over the weekend, Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday (May 7), citing the economic havoc the measures have wreaked, even as increased testing shows a rise in new coronavirus cases.

Khan called on the public to continue following social distancing guidelines as businesses start to reopen in phases, saying another lockdown would be imposed if cases spiked again.

"We need to discipline ourselves," said Khan in a televised address announcing the easing of the lockdown would begin on Saturday. "We can't send the police to make raids. In an independent society this doesn't happen."

Schools will remain closed until mid-July, while there were no plans to restart public transportation or domestic flights just yet.

The easing of the lockdown comes with many across the country already openly flouting its restrictions and gathering in public, especially during the evenings as people celebrate the holy month of Ramadan.

Last month, authorities buckled under pressure from religious groups ahead of Ramadan and allowed mosques to hold daily prayers and evening congregations after clerics promised to instruct religious leaders to clean their facilities regularly.

Thousands of shoppers have also thronged popular markets, including many without wearing protective gear, to buy food for the evening iftar meal that celebrates the end of each day's fasting.

Infections have been rising steadily as testing has increased, with over 23,000 cases recorded in the nation of over 210 million.

The death toll in Pakistan however remains low, at 564, according to government figures.

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