April 25, 2020 / 6:58 AM / a month ago

India, Pakistan ease restrictions for some small businesses amid lockdown

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD, April 25 (Reuters) - The Indian government allowed a limited reopening of shops in neighbourhoods and residential areas from Saturday, more than a month after the nation went into a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, officials said.

Late on Friday the federal home ministry said retail shops could start operations with the staff number reduced by 50%, while also requiring appropriate social distancing, wearing of masks and gloves during work.

The sale of liquor and other non-essential items will continue to be prohibited, and no shops in large market places, multi-brand and single-brand malls will be allowed to open for business till May 3.

India has reported 24,506 cases of the coronavirus and 775 deaths, with authorities setting up new teams to focus on compliance and implementation of lockdown measures.

In neighbouring Pakistan, the government extended the nationwide lockdown till May 9. However, it is switching to a so-called “smart lockdown” from Saturday for targeted tracking and tracing of cases while allowing some industrial and commercial activities to begin under safety guidelines.

“Isolating these cases and their contacts will improve our ability to contain the disease alongside allowing the economy to function and people to get employment,” said Asad Umar, Pakistan’s planning minister, who also oversees the coronavirus national response body.

“This upcoming month of Ramadan will be decisive,” he said, emphasising that adhering to the government’s virus containment measures will enable the further re-starting of parts of the economy.

Prayer congregations for Ramadan have also been allowed in Pakistan with the exception of the southern province of Sindh, where doctors have warned the virus could spread rapidly.

In Karachi, the capital of Sindh and Pakistan’s largest city, most mosques were closed to the public for the Ramadan evening prayer gatherings, which began on Friday.

As of Saturday, Pakistan reported 11,940 cases of infections, including 253 deaths. (Reporting by Manoj Kumar in New Delhi, Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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