People across Pakistan crowded markets on Saturday after a nationwide coronavirus lockdown was eased, despite the country recording its second-highest daily infection toll.
The government has allowed businesses to reopen in phases from the weekend, citing the economic havoc the virus restrictions have wreaked on citizens. In Rawalpindi, thousands of shoppers were preparing for Eidul Fitr, with many flouting social distancing rules and advice to wear masks.
In Karachi, shopkeepers set out their wares of shoes, clothes, bangles and fabrics, while in the capital Islamabad shoppers stood in tightly-packed queues as they waited for stores to open. Similar scenes were played out in Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar.
Omar Shirazi, a banker shopping for clothes with his daughter in Rawalpindi, welcomed the move. “Eid is approaching,” he said. “We have to buy new garments for our children. It's the responsibility of people to comply with rules and wear safety gear.” Tehmina Sattar, who was shopping with her sister and sons, was more cautious.
“We are happy with this decision but at the same time I have a fear in my heart that if this disease spreads it could be devastating. People here are not taking preventative measures.” People gather as they wait for the reopening of shops in Lahore on Saturday.
Information Minister Shibli Faraz warned earlier in the day that the lockdown on businesses would be reimposed if safety guidelines were not followed, after authorities reported more than 1,700 new cases in the past 24 hours. Infections have been rising steadily as testing has increased, with more than 28,000 cases and more than 600 deaths recorded.
The easing comes as many across the country have openly ignored restrictions on gatherings in public during the past month, especially during the evenings as people observe Ramazan. Schools will remain closed until mid-July however, while there are no immediate plans to restart public transportation or domestic flights.