Pakistan on Thursday announced a gradual exit from the countrywide lockdown from Saturday.

Addressing reporters after chairing a high-level meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the lockdown has badly affected laborers, small businessmen, and ordinary people.

“We have decided to open the small markets, shops and allied industries of construction sector across the country from Saturday,” Khan said in a briefing aired on state-run Pakistan Television after chairing a high-level meeting.

Khan requested the public to follow the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“If we observe that people are violating SOPs and it causes a rise in new cases in the country, then the government will again go for a lockdown,” Khan warned.

The announcement came despite the daily surge in coronavirus cases in Pakistan.

In March, Pakistan imposed a countrywide lockdown, closing shops, markets, shopping centers, and offices except for emergency service, in a desperate move to curb the surging COVID-19 cases.

“Our tax revenue decreased by 35% while exports also downed due to the lockdown in the country,” the premier explained.

However, the government has not opened the transport due to the disagreement between the provincial governments.

Last month, Khan announced the reopening of “low-risk” industries, including construction, agriculture, e-commerce, paper and packaging, and others to resume the business activities to stem a deepening economic meltdown caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The government also allowed congregational prayer in mosques during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Education institutions still closed

The authorities also extended the closure of education institutions across the country until July 15.

“All board exams throughout the country have been canceled. Students will be evaluated based on their previous performances in board exams,” Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said.

Accompanying the premier in the briefing, Khan’s special assistant on national security Moeed Yousaf said that 20,000 Pakistanis abroad have been brought back to the country so far and 40,000 more will be brought from 32 countries next weeks.

COVID-19 in Pakistan

The number of novel coronavirus cases in Pakistan, the second worst-hit country in the region after India, has risen to 24,644, according to the Health Ministry.

The death toll in the country is at 585 while 6,464 have recovered so far.

Since first appearing in Wuhan, China last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 187 countries and regions, with the US and Europe being the hardest-hit areas.

Over 3.78 million cases have been reported worldwide, with the death toll nearing 265,000 and over 1.25 million recoveries, according to data compiled by the US’ Johns Hopkins University.

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