Pakistan supreme court orders to open shopping malls, markets


Shoppers are seen inside a shopping mall after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Islamabad on May 18, 2020. (Photo by AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images)
Shoppers are seen inside a shopping mall after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Islamabad on May 18, 2020. (Photo by AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images)

Pakistan supreme court on Monday (18) ordered that shopping malls and markets should be allowed to operate throughout the week across the country. The court said that shopkeepers in Pakistan will “die of hunger rather than the coronavirus”.

A five-member supreme court bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed was hearing a suo moto case regarding measures taken against the virus outbreak.

Markets and shopping malls in Pakistan were shut down during the lockdown imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. Pakistan has reported over 42,000 coronavirus cases and more than 900 deaths due to the disease.

Rejecting the provincial governments’ logic to keep markets closed on weekends to reduce the spread of the virus, he said, keeping businesses shut for certain days in a week violates the Constitution.

“Coronavirus does not go anywhere on Saturday and Sunday. What is the reason behind keeping markets closed on Saturday and Sunday?” Justice Ahmed asked.

The chief justice also questioned the “logic” behind keeping malls closed and ordered that shopping malls and markets should remain open seven days a week.

“Provinces should not create hurdles in opening shopping malls after getting permission (from the health ministry). The court expects that the health ministry will not create any unimportant hurdles and will (allow) businesses to open,” the chief justice observed.

During the hearing, the Sindh provincial government showed reluctance to allow malls to reopen but the court rejected the reservations.  The court said it will be the provincial governments’ responsibility to ensure that standard operating procedures (SOPs) are being followed and implemented.

The apex court also expressed displeasure at the way the money is being spent to deal with the coronavirus crisis and grilled the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) over the expenditure.   The NDMA had submitted a report over the amount spent on medical equipment and quarantine centres for suspected patients.

“What is the reason behind spending hundreds and thousands of rupees on one patient?” the chief justice asked the NDMA representative.  He expressed concerns over the money allocated to cope with the health crisis.