Fear of economic and financial impacts, and tossed about by the acute difficulties suffered by millions of poor families, PM Imran Khan had defended the lockdown last week, saying the spread of the virus had been far below projections.
Education is the only major sector that remains closed.
“The end of the closure does not mean the threat is over,” Yasmeen Rashid, Punjab’s health minister, the country’s largest province, said in an interview on Pakistani television on Wednesday, adding that people need to take security measures themselves.
How most Muslim countries with a population of 207 million behave when the fasting month of Ramadan ends and the Eid celebration begins, which is expected on Sunday or Monday, can influence the course of transmission.
Usually Eid al-Fitr attracts many people to malls and shops, and people travel in droves to reach their home town. While the government has advised people to act responsibly, and avoid going out for unimportant reasons, there is little mention of special precautions needed during the festival period.
For a country the size of Pakistan, testing rates remain low around 14,000 a day. But Reuters calculations, using official data, show infection rates have so far remained relatively stable, with total infections doubling every 9 to 11 days from April 1.
Doctors and experts fear Pakistan’s health system is underfunded and creaks if transmission is accelerating.
In the first 20 days of May, more than 630 people had died, compared to around 380 in the whole of April, data tabulated by Reuters showed. There were less than 10 deaths in March.
32 deaths reported on Wednesday brought the total to 1,017, a government website showed, making Pakistan the 25th country worldwide where the number of victims has exceeded a thousand. On Tuesday, Pakistan reported the most deaths for one day at 46.
Wednesday’s infection was reported to be 2,193 – the second highest for one day – bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in Pakistan to 48,091.
Regardless of the latest death toll, Pakistan expects to suffer terrible human costs, because the government expects millions of its people to fall into poverty.
That International Monetary Fund has forecast that Pakistan’s economy will shrink by 1.5% this year, and the government is expected to lose its main revenue target and deficit, making it more dependent on loans from multilateral lenders.
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