File photo: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photograph:( Reuters )
The decision is being taken because the country's large number of poor people and labourers cannot not afford to live under lockdown any more.
Pakistan has lifted the countrywide lockdown and started easing the restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic, despite the rising in confirmed cases.
The decision is being taken because the country's large number of poor people and labourers cannot not afford to live under lockdown any more, Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday.
"We're deciding that we are ending this lockdown now," Khan said in a televised address. "We know that we're doing it at a time when our curve is going up.... but it is not edging up as we were expecting."
Impoverished Pakistanis cannot survive under lockdown any longer, Khan said. "Since we started this lockdown, we had this fear that these people who are daily wagers, who feed their kids on daily earnings, what will happen to them?" he asked.
He said the shutdown would be lifted in phases and warned people that the disease could get out of control if they didn't take precautions.
The government's handling of the virus has been strongly criticised by scientists and doctors who fear the outbreak will gather pace among a population of more than 200 million and overwhelm the country's struggling health system.
Planning Minister Asad Umar said that initially small markets and shops would be allowed to open until 5 p.m., although big malls and other spaces which attract large crowds would remain closed for now.
A decision to reopen intercity transport and railways will be taken later, while schools will stay closed until July 15, Umar said.
Khan said the restrictions could be restored if the outbreak worsens, something his critics expect to happen due to what they describe as a confused policy response to the crisis and capitulation to Islamist clerics.
He allowed communal prayers for the holy month of Ramadan, but a survey by an NGO, Pattan, found that worshippers were breaching measures on social distancing, masks and disinfection.
Fears for the economy are said to be the main reason for relaxing the lockdown. The IMF and the World Bank have forecast a bleak economic outlook for Pakistan as it heads toward a major recession.
Pakistan, which has undergone a five-week lockdown, has recorded 26,954 confirmed COVID-19 cases along with 611 deaths.
It recorded its highest single-day increase of 1,523 cases on Thursday.