Pakistan shuts shops, markets after coronavirus cases surge, despite Prime Minister Khan easing lockdown measures
Pakistani authorities backed by security forces shut down more than 3,000 shops and markets across the country in a series of raids for violating social distancing regulations, after coronavirus cases surpassed those in neighboring China.
The virus has spread at a fast pace since Prime Minister Imran Khan eased a lockdown in May.
Pakistan on Friday reported 68 more coronavirus-related deaths, raising its overall fatalities to 1,838.
As many as 4,896 more people tested positive in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day infections, bringing the overall to 89,249.
Medical workers are bracing for a surge of Covid-19 patients and some hospitals are turning back those with mild infection, asking them to quarantine themselves at home.
The government says the virus spread because people did not adhere to social distancing regulations.
Critics blame Khan for easing restrictions prematurely.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan announced Monday his government would end several months of coronavirus restrictions, even as it emerged cases of the disease are likely many times higher than previously thought.
In a televised address, Khan said impoverished Pakistan cannot afford to keep businesses closed and said almost all sectors - including domestic tourism - would re-open.
His announcement came shortly after an alarming government report was leaked to the media that showed cases of novel coronavirus in the eastern city of Lahore are estimated to be at about 670,800.
"No workplace and residential area of any town (in the Lahore region) is disease-free," the report notes.The report by Punjab health officials, seen and confirmed by AFP, cited limited random-sample tests finding that in some parts of the city of about 11 million people, almost 15 percent of the population are positive.
Khan's government has struggled to present a cohesive national strategy to control the coronavirus.
Khan was reluctant to call for a sweeping lockdown, so instead the country's four provinces ordered their own closures.
"Unfortunately, the way lockdown occurred, that was very painful for our lower class," Khan said, adding that the lockdown had affected the country's tax-revenue collections.
He defended his decision to reopen, arguing lockdowns don't stop the virus.
"You will have to understand this coronavirus, it's not going to go unless a vaccine is discovered. We have to live with the coronavirus. The entire world has reached this conclusion," Khan said, pointing to eased restrictions in US states.
"Today, America, the richest country in the world, where 100,000 people have died because of corona, they too have decided that their economy would collapse if they (continue) a lockdown," Khan said.