People ride on the back of a mini truck (C) after the government resumed public transport services easing the lockdown imposed…
People ride on the back of a mini truck after the government resumed public transport services easing the lockdown imposed against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, June 3, 2020.

ISLAMABAD - Health officials in Pakistan said Wednesday two more lawmakers have died after contracting the coronavirus, as the national tally of infections has risen by nearly 500% over the past month.

The pandemic hit the country of 220 million people in late February and has since killed about 1,700 Pakistanis, including five members of national and provincial parliaments.

Officials have confirmed several other lawmakers and ministers also are among more than 80,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections.

A health official wearing protective gear takes a sample from a man sitting in a temporary cabin at the drive-through screening and testing facility for the coronavirus alongside a street in Islamabad, June 3, 2020.

The government data for April 30 had put the number of deaths and patients at just over 300 and 16,400, respectively.

Pakistan recorded 67 deaths and 4,131 new patients in the past 24 hours, the second highest single-day increase in infections after Russia, where more than 8,500 patients tested positive for the virus.

Pakistan's most populous province of Punjab is said to be the worst-hit by COVID-19 infections.

An official sample survey has concluded that about 700,000 people might have been infected in the provincial capital, Lahore, the country's second largest city.

The findings suggested "no workplace, market and residential area … is disease-free" in the city of about 12 million people.

Provincial Health Minister Yasmin Rashid told reporters the research was done by a team of local and international experts with the goal of helping the government assess how the disease is going to grow in coming weeks. 
"The samples collected had an infectivity rate of about 5.8%. These are extrapolated figures that we use to combat a disease, but they have helped us enhance our measures [against COVID-19]," Rashid said. 

Easing restrictions

Despite Pakistan witnessing a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Imran Khan has rejected calls for enforcing a complete lockdown to stem the spread of the disease.

He has warned that such a move would endanger the lives of millions of poverty-stricken families, mostly those of daily wagers and laborers. Their livelihood means have already been disrupted by initial lockdown restrictions, he insisted.

People sit in a mini bus after the government resumed public transport services, in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, June 3, 2020.

Khan's government has launched emergency relief programs, distributing cash grants among 12 million directly affected poverty-stricken families across Pakistan.

The prime minister, however, has cautioned that without restoring economic activities, his cash-strapped government would not be able to feed an estimated 150 million Pakistanis beyond few months.

"We no longer can afford that," Khan said Tuesday in his nationally televised remarks while announcing further easing of restrictions. "Therefore, except for a few sectors, all other businesses are being opened, including the tourism sector."

The goal, he said, was to "save people from coronavirus and hunger simultaneously."

Tourism criticism

Khan stressed that Pakistanis will need to learn to live with the virus by strictly following safety guidelines because "coronavirus is going nowhere, at least this year."

In an editorial Wednesday, the DAWN newspaper described as "alarming" the prime minister's decision to further ease lockdown curbs.

"What is most shocking is the decision to resume tourism in the country," the editorial lamented.

"Who will travel to Pakistan, where infection rates are climbing? It is still not too late to lock down and lower the transmission rate, as has been done in other countries, which have flattened the curve and are slowly reopening."

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