As part of measures aimed at curbing the ill-effects of smog, the interim Punjab government on Sunday announced it is making face-masks mandatory for one week on all citizens in the worst-hit districts of the province.
According to a notification issued by the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department, the order for mandatory masking in public spaces would be implemented in Lahore, Nankana Sahib, Sheikhupura, Kasur, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Sialkot, Narowal, Hafizabad and Mandi Bahauddin from Nov. 20 (Monday) through Nov. 26 (Sunday). It said the measure was being taken due to the “serious and imminent threat” posed by smog to public health.
“I, Ali Jan Khan, secretary, Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department, Government of the Punjab, after approval from the chief minister and in exercise of powers conferred under Section 4 (c), 5(1)(e) of the Punjab Infectious Diseases (Prevention and Control) Act, 2020, do hereby order that all citizens shall wear face mask during all kind of outdoor activities,” it added.
In a subsequent Twitter post, interim Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi confirmed that the action was being taken in response to deteriorating air quality. “Prioritizing health is our collective responsibility,” he wrote. “Please adhere to the guidelines for a safer community,” he added.
Parts of Punjab, most notably areas surrounding Lahore, have been in the grip of smog for over a month, with the Air Quality Index regularly crossing 400, or “hazardous” levels of toxicity. In a bid to reduce air pollution, the interim government earlier this month announced a 4-day weekend in the smog-hit districts, but abandoned it within a day as rain reduced the amount of smog. The past week, the government similarly announced the closure of all public and private schools, colleges, and offices on Saturday.
However, the smog has persisted, with the Lahore High Court criticizing the inaction and directing authorities to work toward implementing a work-from-home policy 1-2 days a week to help reduce vehicular emissions and improve the air quality. According to the Punjab government, it is currently examining the possibility of inducing artificial rain to reduce particulate matter in the atmosphere, with the environment minister telling media this could be done around Nov. 28.