Threat of coronavirus outbreak sets off alarm bells in Senate

Updated January 29, 2020

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An airport official checks the temperature of a passenger upon his arrival at the Bacha Khan International Airport on Monday.—AFP/File
An airport official checks the temperature of a passenger upon his arrival at the Bacha Khan International Airport on Monday.—AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The threat of a coronavirus outbreak in Pakistan set off alarm bells in the Senate on Tuesday, with a lawmaker asking the government to explain the precautionary measures implemented by it.

Zeeshan Khanzada of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said the number of people contracting the disease in China had doubled in a couple of days and pointed out that the Chinese people employed in Pakistan would be returning after vacations.

“What arrangements have been made at airports or on highways and what precautionary measures have been taken by the Ministry of National Health Services?” he asked.

He said many countries had issued travel advisories, asking their citizens not to unnecessarily travel to China. He wondered if such an advisory had also been issued by the Pakistan government.

He said China planned to build a 1,000-bed hospital to treat the epidemic in the next 10 days. He noted that Pakistan lacked such a capacity and warned that the situation might go out of control if adequate precautionary steps were not implemented.

PTI leader seeks details of precautionary measures implemented at airports and highways by Ministry of National Health Services

Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwala, who was presiding over the session, referred the matter to the Senate’s standing committee on national health services, asking the panel to submit its report to the house in the next five days or so.

Earlier, opposition members staged two walkouts from the house. The first walkout was staged during the question hour to protest the absence of two relevant ministers from the house. Interior Minister Ijaz Shah and Minister for Narcotics Control Shaharyar Afridi were not present in the house when questions related to their ministries were on the agenda.

The second walkout was staged when PML-N’s Javed Abbasi’s speech was interrupted by PTI lawmakers. Javed Abbasi criticised the president for promulgating ordinances even when parliament was in session.

“The president, as per the Constitution’s definition is part of parliament, but unfortunately he has been used against the two houses of parliament,” Mr Abbasi said.

He said the president could promulgate an ordinance when no house of parliament was in session and some emergency required immediate enactment of a law. He said the Constitution also required that an ordinance was first to be laid before two houses of parliament, and both the houses had the power to disapprove it through a resolution.

On an objection raised by PTI’s Waleed Iqbal, he said the Constitution only bars discussing conduct of judges.

“We are discussing conduct of the president,” he remarked. He said it was for the first time in the parliamentary history that an infamous PMDC Ordinance which had been rejected by Senate had been re-promulgated with some changes.

As PTI lawmakers, including Waleed Iqbal and Mohsin Aziz, continued to pass remarks during Mr Abbasi’s speech, he left his speech incomplete and made another walkout.

Earlier, during the question hour, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told the house that five major train accidents had occurred in the country from August 2018 to November 2019 in which 112 passengers had died and 123 suffered injuries. He said the rest of incidents were derailments and accidents of minor nature.

The minister said that Rs93 million had been paid as compensation to families of the deceased and Rs4.8m had been disbursed among the injured, according to the nature of injuries, as per policy of the government up to Dec 31 last year.

In reply to a question, Mr Rashid said the government would welcome any joint venture with foreign companies for local production of railway tracks and locomotives.

He, however, noted that this should not be limited to Chinese companies. He particularly mentioned Turkey and Russia as possible partners. The house will meet again on Friday at 10.30am.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2020