Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the nation on June 1, 2020. Photo: YouTube

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan announced Monday his government would end several months of coronavirus restrictions, even as it emerged cases of the disease are likely many times higher than previously thought.

In a televised address, Khan said impoverished Pakistan cannot afford to keep businesses closed and said almost all sectors – including domestic tourism – would re-open.

His announcement came shortly after an alarming government report was leaked to the media that showed cases of novel coronavirus in the eastern city of Lahore are estimated to be at about 670,800.

“No workplace and residential area of any town [in the Lahore region] is disease-free,” the report notes.

Officially, about 72,000 people have tested positive, with 1,543 deaths, across all of Pakistan. The daily rate of new cases is accelerating.

The report by Punjab health officials, seen and confirmed by AFP, cited limited random-sample tests finding that in some parts of the city of about 11 million people, almost 15% of the population are positive.

“I request you all to please follow SOPs [standard operating procedures], as we are opening everything on the conditions of these SOPs,” Khan said in his address, warning people will suffer if they do not take precautions.

Khan’s government has struggled to present a cohesive national strategy to control the coronavirus.

Khan was reluctant to call for a sweeping lockdown, so instead the country’s four provinces ordered their own closures.

“Unfortunately, the way lockdown occurred, that was very painful for our lower class,” Khan said, adding that the lockdown had affected the country’s tax-revenue collections. 

He defended his decision to reopen, arguing lockdowns don’t stop the virus.

“You will have to understand this coronavirus, it’s not going to go unless a vaccine is discovered. We have to live with the coronavirus. The entire world has reached this conclusion,” Khan said, pointing to eased restrictions in US states.

“Today, America, the richest country in the world, where 100,000 people have died because of corona, they too have decided that their economy would collapse if they [continue] a lockdown,” Khan said.