The caretaker Punjab government has announced a public holiday in Lahore, some parts of the Gujranwala division and adjoining areas on Friday as part of an effort to rein in persistent smog enveloping the region in recent weeks.
Various areas of the province are grappling with severe air pollution, primarily due to the burning of crop residue by farmers, exacerbating the smog issue compounded by emissions from substandard diesel.
Earlier, the government has appealed to citizens to use facemask for the next month and avoid undue visits outdoors. The government has also advised parents to equip their children to use facemask when going to schools and colleges.
Addressing a news conference on Tuesday, Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi highlighted that Pakistan is observing a national holiday on Thursday to commemorate the birth anniversary of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, one of the nation’s founding figures.
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On the advice of environmental experts, he added, the government has decided to suspend school and office operations in all district of Lahore division, including Kasur, Sheikhupura and Nankana Sahib; some areas of Gujranwala and adjoining regions on Friday.
He revealed that following a meeting earlier in the day, the provincial administration had decided to announce the additional holiday just before the two-day weekend with the aim of providing a four-day reprieve to help reduce smog levels.
He said the government had taken punitive measures against farmers burning crop residue and was closely monitoring the situation. He clarified that factories would remain operational to protect workers’ daily wages. The caretaker chief minister implored residents to ensure that children and the elderly wear facemasks and advised people to stay indoors from Thursday unless it is essential to venture outside.
He also suggested to the citizens to give some rest to the provincial capital’s atmosphere and visit other scenic areas of the province in the holidays, as Punjab has numerous cultural and recreational sites.
He highlighted that all markets, shopping centres, commercial areas, restaurants and cinemas would remain closed on the weekend – Saturday and Sunday — except takeaway services to safeguard the low-income strata.
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He disclosed that the marriage and banquets halls, bakeries, pharmacies and public transport would function on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, while public parks would remain closed.
Naqvi also highlighted that besides smog, a health emergency had been imposed in the province as the number of patients with respiratory, throat and eye diseases was rising owing to the alarmingly high level of atmospheric pollution.
Responding to a question, the caretaker chief minister said it was impossible to eliminate smog but it could be controlled with strict measures and responsible behaviour.
Heavy rains are the only thing which helps in improving the situation vis-a-vis pollution and smog, he maintained.
Meanwhile, Lahore’s air quality remained in the ‘hazardous’ range with a ranking of 444 as per the Air Quality Index (AQI) of the AirVisual, a global monitoring giant. The air quality and city pollution ranking indicates that the provincial capital is still at the second place among most polluted cities, preceded by New Delhi with the AQI of 468.
Information available on the AirVisual website forecast that the air quality of the provincial capital will remain in the ‘unhealthy’ range till Friday. A little improvement is predicted but still it will remain ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th2023.