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The federal government on Sunday confirmed the deployment of armed forces in all provinces and regions of the country, with the exception of Sindh, to ensure compliance with the Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Besides, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has decided to enforce a complete lockdown in Mardan district for seven days, starting from Monday (today).

In a video statement, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said with reference to the April 23 meeting of the NCC [National Coordination Committee] led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, it was decided to avail the services of the army.

"The army, which has always stood with its people in calamities such as floods and earthquakes, has now been given this new responsibility," he added.

Rashid elaborated that the interior ministry had released a notification for the deployment of army personnel.

“Gilgit-Baltistan, [Azad] Kashmir, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Islamabad will be able to avail the force's services as per their requirements,” he added.

“Sindh is not yet a part of this [army deployment].”

The minister said the decision was an important one considering the grave situation in neighbouring India because of the virus outbreak.

However, it emerged earlier in the day that the Sindh government had written to the federal government seeking the deployment of army in the province to ensure adherence to Covid-19 precautionary SOPs.

“The services of armed forces of Pakistan in aid of civil power are required under Article 245 of the Constitution of Pakistan," read a letter penned by the home department to the  interior ministry.

“[The] Exact nature of deployment of troops and equipment will be communicated in due course of time after carrying out requisite assessment in consultation with [the] quarters concerned," it added.

Separately, the K-P government spokesperson announced the decision  to enforce a complete lockdown in Mardan district for seven days.

In a statement, Kamran Bangash said  shops selling food items, other basic commodities and medicines would remain open during the period.

He added that the positivity rate of Covid-19 in the district currently stood at over 40%.

The spokesperson appealed to the masses to follow precautionary measures.

The decision was made at a meeting attended by provincial minister Atif Khan, the home secretary, the DPO and representatives of the local administration.

The meeting chaired by the home secretary decided after thoroughly discussing the situation that a complete lockdown would be imposed in the district to check the spread of the infection.

Later, MPA Zahir Shah Toru told the media that the lockdown would be imposed for a week initially and could be extended if the situation remained the same.

He said public transport would not be available during the lockdown. He asked the public to cooperate with the authorities and avoid congested market places for their own safety.

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), the country’s nerve centre for combined efforts against Covid-19, said the lethal virus had claimed 118 more lives in the last 24 hours.

It added that the country recorded at least 5,611 new coronavirus cases during the same time period, taking the country's tally to 795,627.

The country is witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases as it grapples with the third wave of the pandemic, fueled by the UK strain of the virus.

According to the NCOC, most deaths were reported in Punjab followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Meanwhile, the total number of patients recovered from the deadly disease rose to 689,812. The total active Covid-19 cases across the country were reported to be 88,698.

The highest ventilator occupancy rate in the country is in Gujranwala at 88%, followed by Multan at 85%, Lahore af 84% and Mardan at 60%.

The NCOC further reported that the highest oxygen bed occupancy was also witnessed in Gujranwala at 85%, followed by Peshawar at 80%, Swabi at 75% and Swat at 68%.

About 55,128 Covid-19 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours of which 12,104 were carried out in Sindh, 28,207 in Punjab, 7,848 in K-P, 4,171 in Islamabad, 1,229 in Balochistan, 386 in G-B and 1,183 in AJK.

Of the total 17,117 reported deaths, there have been at least 4,593 deaths in Sindh, 7,964 in Punjab, 3,103 in K-P and 660 in Islamabad.

A total of 232 deaths were reported in Balochistan, 104 in G-B and 461 in AJK.

Speaking to a private TV channel, Federal Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said people needed to cooperate with the authorities to curb the spread of third wave of Covid-19 across the country.

“If the people don't comply with guidelines, we will have to impose complete lockdowns in cities,” the minister, who heads the NCOC, warned.

“We are in the process of identifying hospitals with more Covid-19 patients so that their capacity could be further increased,” he added.

He said ventilators, oxygen supply and other facilities were being examined every day.

“The federal government has received more than three million doses of coronavirus vaccine and other two million will come soon,” he added.

“The private sector has imported over 60,000 vaccine doses as well.”

He regretted that the Sindh government was playing politics on the issue of the vaccine.

“It [Sindh government] is lying to the media that it is buying the vaccine on its own,” Umar claimed.

“Pakistan was one of the first countries to allow the private sector to import and sell Covid-19 vaccines.”

He said all the burden of vaccination was put on the federal government as Sindh was still lagging behind in this process.

“Pakistan is bringing in vaccine doses on a large scale” he added.

Umar said the government had kicked off walk-in coronavirus vaccination for people aged 60 years and above.

Replying to a query, the minister said the overall vaccine demand in the world was high and its supply was low.

“Countries across the world have been reporting a shortage of vaccine. Pakistan has planned to vaccinate 70 million people this year,” he added.

“Vaccination against Covid-19 will continue to be free for eligible population groups at all government vaccination centres.”

The army was called out on April 23 in aid of civil administration to ensure the implementation of precautionary measures against the rampaging novel coronavirus as the prime minister warned the government might impose lockdown in major cities if the spread of the deadly contagion was not contained.

The ominous warning came as Covid-19 – the deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus – appeared to have spiralled out of control in India where the healthcare system is staggering amid shortage of oxygen and medicines while crematoriums are being overwhelmed with deluges of bodies.

“If the situation worsens here like it has worsened in India, then we will have to impose lockdowns in cities – something we do not want and cannot afford because, in that case the poor – labourers and the daily-wagers – will suffer the most,” the premier had said during the address to the nation.

He added that he had been resisting calls from his aides who were advising him to immediately impose lockdowns in major cities.

The premier regretted the growing disregard for the SOPs which, if followed in letter and spirit, would help the government contain the highly contagious virus.

He called upon the nation to show the same resilience, commitment and sense of responsibility that it had shown during the first wave of the pandemic.

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