Severity: Critical Alert

Exit/Entry: Pakistan continues movement restrictions in areas affected by COVID-19 as of July 6. Limited domestic, international flights operational.

  • Alert Begins: 06 Jul 2020 06:38 AM UTC
  • Alert Expires: 31 Jul 2020 11:59 PM UTC
  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Increased security, transport and business disruptions; possible protests

Summary
Pakistan is imposing movement restrictions across Balochistan and Sindh Provinces through July 15, in addition to selected areas in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan regions to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Officials previously eased restrictions across the country, but due to increased COVID-19 activity, authorities are imposing measures in localities with COVID-19 clusters. Authorities have also identified 20 cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and others, as potential COVID-19 hotspots and will strictly enforce restrictions in affected areas.

Local governments are implementing commercial restrictions in identified areas and require residents to stay home except when purchasing essential goods. Provincial variations in measures such as operating hours for businesses are likely. Officials are also monitoring the affected areas to ensure that residents adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs) that mandate hygiene and social distancing measures. Authorities may introduce restrictions in other areas in the coming days if the number of COVID-19 cases increases. The restrictions typically last from 7-14 days but may be extended depending on the local situation.

Authorities will not likely introduce measures in areas with fewer COVID-19 cases. Transport and commercial activity have resumed, albeit with social distancing measures in place. All home-based, small, and large industries have restarted operations, including retail centers such as shopping malls; however, opening hours and capacity are limited. Social gatherings remain banned, except for congregational prayers and permitted functions such as weddings and funerals. Public spaces such as educational institutions, tourist attractions, and dine-in restaurants remain closed. Officials continue to encourage citizens to stay home and require them to wear protective masks in public. Minor regional variations in rules are likely; poor adherence to and enforcement of guidelines is reported across the nation.

Inter-provincial and inter-district transport facilities are open, except in Sindh, where only inter-city transport is operational as of July 6. Although the federal government is allowing public ground transport to resume nationwide, transport services are required to follow standard operating procedures, including transport operating at 50 percent capacity and passengers paying modified fares. Transporters' disagreement with some of the SOPs and rule changes by provincial authorities at short notice may continue to fuel sporadic protests and transport disruptions.

Authorities have resumed some domestic flights between airports serving Karachi (KHI), Lahore (LHE), Islamabad (ISB), Peshawar (PEW), Quetta (UET), and Sialkot (SKT). Passengers will be required to fill in a health declaration form detailing travel history and current health status. Authorities will conduct health screenings of people when boarding and will only allow passengers to fill 50 percent of plane seats. Officials may resume flights at airports in other cities in the coming days as the government continues to relax restrictions.

Protests, particularly by healthcare workers, religious groups, traders, and transport workers, are possible in the coming weeks. Healthcare workers have occasionally demonstrated regarding various demands, such as adequate protective equipment and the extension and stringent enforcement of social distancing measures in the community. Some religious groups may defy social distancing orders in the lead up to and during the July 31-Aug. 2 Eid al-Adha holiday. Protests are also likely outside government offices, transport hubs, and major traffic intersections, mainly in Sindh province, where strictest restrictions are in place. Protesting groups include traders opposed to remaining business restrictions and transport workers who are demanding relaxation of prescribed capacity limit, reduction in toll tax, and the rollback of fare discounts. Police could use force to disperse such gatherings, potentially prompting clashes.

Travel Restrictions

Pakistan authorities are permitting outbound international passenger flights from May 30. Outbound international services will be allowed to resume at all international airports in the country except those serving Gwadar (GWD) and Turbat (TUK). Inbound international commercial passenger flights remain banned until further notice, except for Pakistani citizens. Authorities are extending the validity of visas for foreign nationals in the country through Aug 31. Cargo, emergency, and repatriation flights are unaffected.

While air travel restrictions remain in place, Pakistani authorities have begun opening border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan for trade - mainly of essential goods - and exchange of stranded citizens. Despite the borders reopening, cargo transit continues facing intermittent disruptions at Pakistan's land border crossings with Afghanistan and Iran mainly due to protests over the permitted number of vehicles. Officials have closed the Attari-Wagah border with India, except for repatriation. Bus and train services between India and Pakistan remain suspended. Any incoming travelers to the country, including Pakistani nationals, are advised to self-isolate for two weeks or are mandated to undergo a 14-day quarantine at home or in a medical facility, based on medical screening outcomes.

Background and Analysis
The measures adopted by the government are similar to actions taken by other regional governments in recent days in response to the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Advice
Confirm travel arrangements. Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all business appointments, deliveries, and travel arrangements. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Ensure access to essential items. Avoid all large gatherings; heed security and traffic advisories.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.


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