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Pakistan Urged To Give Workers Better Protection

People sit on the ground to maintain social distanciation as they wait to collect free dry rations from the Saylani Welfare Trust during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in the southwestern city of Quetta on March 31.

A human rights group has called on Pakistan's government to take rapid measures to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its most vulnerable workers.

"Social distancing, quarantines, and the closure of businesses will have enormous economic consequences for garment and textile workers, domestic workers, home-based workers, and other workers in low-income households," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on April 2.

Pakistan has almost 2,300 confirmed coronavirus cases of COVID-19, with at least 31 fatalities, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

However, HRW says the real number of infections may be much higher since little testing is available.

"Pakistani authorities should take urgent steps to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 on its most vulnerable workers," the New York-based rights group said.

Central and regional authorities have imposed partial or complete lockdowns, and all businesses not producing essential supplies have been shut down.

Between 12.3 million and 18.5 million people in various sectors may lose their jobs, according to estimates.

In Punjab Province alone, at least half a million textile and garment-industry workers had lost their jobs as of March 28, according to the Pakistan Workers’ Federation.

HRW said the government should find ways to protect those affected "from suffering loss of income that would push them further into poverty and deter them from self-isolating to contain the spread of the virus."

“The Pakistan government should take measures so that the loss of livelihood and income doesn’t compound the threats workers face to their health,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The economically marginalized are among the most vulnerable groups affected by COVID-19, and the government should urgently find ways to protect them,” Adams said.