People thronged into places of worship like temples, mosques, churches, and gurudwaras (for Sikh community) in India on Monday as religious places reopened across many states after 76 days of lockdown due to COVID-19.
The reopening of religious places was permitted by fresh guidelines issued by the federal government on June 4, which stated "Religious places or places of worship for public in containment zones shall remain closed. Only those outside containment zones will be allowed to open up."
As per the standard operating procedures (SOPs), persons above 65 years of age, those with comorbidities, pregnant woman and children below the age of 10 years old have been advised to stay at home.
During early morning hours, people were seen entering religious places wearing masks, maintaining social distancing norms, and following necessary instructions like not touching the idols, holy books, or other articles kept inside the sanctum sanctorum.
Media reports showed people visiting the Eidgah Mosque in Lucknow, the capital city of northern state of Uttar Pradesh, and the Kalkaji Temple and the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in Delhi.
"Those entering the temple are passed through thermal screening. Proper arrangements have been made for soaps and hand-sanitizers at the entrance of the temple. Regular announcements are being made asking people to maintain social distancing inside the temple premises. There are strict measures in place to avoid crowding inside or outside the temple," he added.
The SOPs issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare last week stated that before entering any religious place, people must wash their hands with soap for at least 40-60 seconds even when hands are not visibly dirty.
The SOPs also directed the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers for at least 20 seconds wherever feasible.
"Respiratory etiquettes to be strictly followed. This involves strict practice of covering one's mouth and nose while coughing/sneezing with a tissue/handkerchief/flexed elbow and disposing of used tissues properly," the SOPs stated.
According to media reports, some of the religious places have decided to organize prayers in shifts and even start a token system to specify time slots to devotees for visits in a bid to maintain social distancing and avoid crowding.
The fifth phase of lockdown began on June 1 in India, though with several relaxations for reopening of economic activities. The current phase is also dubbed as "Unlock 1.0" as the fresh guidelines allow reopening of several places like shopping malls, religious places, manufacturing activities, offices and other business establishments.
India's federal health ministry on Sunday morning said the death toll had risen to 6,929 and the total cases reached 246,628.
Malaysia is further easing restrictive measures to allow nearly all social, education, commercial activities to resume since the latest figure suggests that the COVID-19 outbreak in the country is under control, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Sunday.
In a televised speech, Muhyiddin announced that the restrictions under the movement control order would be further relaxed from June 10 to give the public greater freedom while keeping the outbreak in the country under control.
Malaysia has been under restrictions since March 18 to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, with a relaxed version being implemented since May 4, which is scheduled to end on June 9.
Since the implementation of the restrictions, the infection rate of COVID-19 in the country has been showing a trend of decline, with data suggesting that the local transmission among Malaysians is going down and under control, said Muhyiddin, adding that most new cases recently were imported ones or from the illegal migrants held at the immigration detention facilities.
"This shows that Malaysia has successfully controlled the spread of COVID-19 and now is entering the recovery phase," he said.
Under the recovery phase of the movement control order, interstate travel and domestic tourism will be allowed, and nearly all social, educational, religious activities, and commercial and economic businesses will be allowed to operate with the requirement of strict standard operating procedure (SOP) set by the government.
Schools will reopen on stages, with the Health Ministry and Education Ministry working out details on the implementation.
However, pubs, night clubs, entertainment centers, theme parks, massage parlors as well as sporting events and other large-scale activities resulting in crowds will remain prohibited. Sporting activities involving physical contacts like football are still not allowed.
Border controls remain in place. Malaysia has banned citizens from leaving the country and foreign visitors to enter since the implementation of the movement control order.
The new measures will be in place till Aug. 31, said Muhyiddin.
The prime minister said during this time the government will focus on seven key thrusts, including strengthening public health, border security, law enforcement, implementing the "new normal" culture, community responsibility, protecting vulnerable groups and fully opening the economy.
Muhyiddin emphasized the importance of complying with rules and SOPs implemented for the public's safety, warning that the government would not hesitate to reimpose strict measures should the number of new cases spike.
He also appealed for the public to accept the new normal as a culture and to be patient as the government was working as hard as possible to normalize the situation in the country.
Pakistan decided on Thursday to take strict administrative actions for the implementation and enforcement of the standard operating procedure (SOPs) formed by the government to contain the spread of COVID-19 amid a surge in new virus cases across the country, officials said.
The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) of Pakistan, a high level body to monitor the situation arising out of COVID-19, reviewed ways to implement the track, trace and quarantine strategy.
Officials from different parts of the country informed the NCOC that strict administrative action has been initiated against the violators of the SOPs and social distancing in public places and high risk areas of markets, public transport and industrial sectors, an official statement said.
The NCOC meeting presided over by minister for planning Asad Umar discussed the implementation of the SOPs, safety and quarantine guidelines to avoid spread of the coronavirus with the provincial chief secretaries.
Speaking on the occasion, Umar said the heart of the strategy to contain the risk of the contagion is to ensure "the SOPs compliance and enforcement of quarantine measures." He added that all measures should be implemented swiftly to make the strategy a success in overcoming the risk of the COVID-19 spread.
Officials informed the meeting that strict SOPs and social distancing would be ensured whereas on violation the entire market, business center and plaza would be sealed.
They said that fines were imposed on the transport sector for violating SOPs while a fine would also be imposed on not wearing face masks at public places and high risk areas.
The death toll of COVID-19 has risen to 1,770 with 85,264 confirmed cases in Pakistan, according to data updated by the country's health ministry on Thursday.
Pakistan will resume its international flight operations from Friday night after the government eased some of the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to a notification issued by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Friday.
"As per decision of the Federal Government, the outbound international flights operation has been allowed with effect from 23:59 (local time) tonight," the notification said.
Both national and foreign airlines will be allowed to operate from all international airports of Pakistan with exception of the country's southwest Gwadar and Turbat airports, said the notification.
The standard operating procedures (SOPs) for outbound international flights have already been issued, according to which, airlines will be required to follow the SOPs of the destination country, said the CAA, adding that disinfection of aircraft will be ensured and no congestion at airports will be allowed.
Pakistan has suspended international flight operations since March as part of the safety measure to stem the spread of COVID-19. Earlier on May 16, Pakistan resumed domestic flight operations in a phased manner.
Malaysian Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr holiday in a very different way this year, dispensing with large scale gatherings and the customary Open House for smaller celebrations with immediate family members.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak and movement restrictions imposed by the government covering businesses and interstate travel, the typical routine of "balik kampung" or returning to hometowns is not allowed this year.
This year's Eid al-Fitr comes with a three-day official holiday started on Sunday. But Families must confine their guests to no more than 20 people per day for only one day rather than the typical week of celebrations and are encouraged to keep those present to only family members.
Social distancing measures make it necessary to avoid shaking hands, kissing and hugging family members, especially the elderly to prevent them from becoming infected.
Many have embraced the "new normal", using video conference instead of celebrating with their families.
Kamarudin Ismail, a businessman based in the capital city Kuala Lumpur, said he would miss the large family gathering at his hometown in the northern Kedah state, which has been called off.
"It is similar to the Chinese Lunar new year. It is a time to get together with family and friends but we are facing this disease and some changes have to be made. I understand many are unhappy but this is a matter of health and safety," he said.
"At least I have my immediate family with me and I have invited some friends. It is not so bad really. Of course we are going to be busy with video calls all day," he told Xinhua.
Civil servant Azaidah Ibrahim from Negeri Sembilan state said she was lucky for living with her parents but would miss the company of her siblings, who were working outside the state.
"We will celebrate with some friends and relatives but my brothers and one sister will not be able to join us. Our parents are both in their late 60s and it will not be safe for them. But we will make do with what we can. I hope things will be better by next year," she said.
Malaysia reported 60 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, pushing the total confirmed cases in the country to 7,245. Another 33 were discharged, bringing the total cured cases to 5,945. The death toll stood at 115.
In an evening televised address on Saturday, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin reminded Malaysians to observe standard operating procedures (SOP) of the movement control order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"As I have mentioned before, in some countries COVID-19 cases escalated after festive celebrations. We want to make sure that doesn't happen here. As such, we must exercise caution as prevention is better than cure," he said.
Muhyiddin himself is observing a 14-day home quarantine after one of the participants in a recent meeting he chaired was tested positive for COVID-19.
Malaysian government imposed a movement control order from March 18 to curb the spread of the outbreak. Some restrictions were relaxed from May 4, with interstate travel still being restricted as well as certain businesses not being allowed to operate. The measures are scheduled to last till June 9.
In his speech, Muhyiddin urged Malaysians to keep up their cheer in the face of the outbreak and adapt to the new normal.
"This year's festivities will definitely be different. Opportunities to visit family members and loved ones will be limited. There will be no open houses to attend and mingle with relatives."
"However, it does not mean it is any less festive. Create that atmosphere of festivity and joy with our own family members," he said.
A worker disinfects a train compartment at a railway station in northwest Pakistan's Peshawar on May 20, 2020. Pakistan on Wednesday partially restored train service under standard operating procedures (SOPs) to enable people to celebrate upcoming Eid al-Fitr holidays. (Photo by Umar Qayyum/Xinhua)
A worker sanitizes passengers' hands at a railway station in eastern Pakistan's Lahore on May 20, 2020. Pakistan on Wednesday partially restored train service under standard operating procedures (SOPs) to enable people to celebrate upcoming Eid al-Fitr holidays. (Photo by Sajjad/Xinhua)
Domestic passenger flights will resume from May 25 in a "calibrated manner", India's federal civil aviation minister said Wednesday.
Flight operations in the country were stopped in the last week of March after a nationwide lockdown was announced to break the chain of the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Domestic civil aviation operations will recommence in a calibrated manner from Monday (May 25, 2020). All airports and air carriers are being informed to be ready for operations from May 25. SOPs for passenger movement are also being separately issued by the ministry of civil aviation," India's civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri in a brief statement posted on social media said.
India is currently reeling under a lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to contain the pandemic. The lockdown which was announced on March 25 has been extended until May 30.
Currently, a ban is in force on domestic and international flight operations. However, international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by Directorate General of Civil Aviation are exempted from the restrictions.
A worker disinfects a railway station in Peshawar, Pakistan, May 19, 2020. The train services in Pakistan will be partially restored from Wednesday under standard operating procedures (SOPs) to enable people to celebrate upcoming Eid al-Fitr holidays, Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad said on Monday. (Photo by Saeed Ahmad/Xinhua)
Pakistan has decided to open its border crossings with Afghanistan for 24 hours a day and 6 days a week to facilitate cross-border trade, which has been affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic in both countries, local media reported Saturday.
The National Command and Operation Center, a high level body leading the country's fight against the COVID-19, took the decision of opening the Torkham and Chaman crossings with Afghanistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, reports said, quoting a notification issued on Friday by the Interior Ministry of Pakistan.
Torkham border will remain open for 24 hours a day and 6 days a week (except Saturday) for cross-border trade and unlimited number of trucks will be allowed per day while ensuring proper standard operating procedures (SOPs) and guidelines for both the bilateral trade and Afghan transit trade, the reports said, adding that similar directives were also issued for the Chaman border.
The notification said Saturdays will be reserved for pedestrian move only and the SOPs as applicable for air passengers will be implemented for pedestrians as well, according to the reports.
Pakistan had closed border with Afghanistan, but announced in April to open the two border crossing points thrice a week to facilitate cargo trucks and containers to enter Afghanistan. However, Afghan traders say that thousands of their containers of transit goods are stuck at the Karachi port, causing them financial losses.
Pakistani and Afghan traders welcomed the newest decision and hoped that it will ensure smooth cross-border trade activities.
Ahmad Shah Yarzada, an Afghan importer and member of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said traders and businessmen in both countries have been demanding opening of the crossing points as their closure had badly affected trade activities.
"The step taken by Pakistan to open the border is a very good step," Yarzada told Xinhua on Saturday.
"In order to avoid the spread of COVID-19, all the necessary steps were taken by the Afghan side as per the mechanism prepared by Commerce Ministry of Afghanistan and shared with government of Pakistan," Yarzada said.
A traders' body in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also hailed the decision and said it will ensure speedy clearance of containers, besides removal of hurdles to bilateral trade and transit trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, president of the Frontier Customs Agents Association, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said the opening of Torkham border for 6 days and round the clock for cross-border trade will remove obstacles in the way of Pak-Afghan trade and transit trade and will give further boost to mutual trade volume between the two neighboring countries.
Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan had signed a transit trade agreement in 1965 that was revised in 2010. Afghans traders have also been allowed to import goods via the Gwadar port in southwest Balochistan province besides using ports in Karachi, the commercial hub of Pakistan.