PM Imran hopeful Pakistan's 'hot and dry' weather will mitigate virus threat

Updated Mar 20 2020

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Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks to senior journalists in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks to senior journalists in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday expressed the hope that Pakistan's "hot and dry" weather will help to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak, urging citizens to exercise social distancing and self-discipline.

Speaking to senior journalists in Islamabad, the premier said: "We can manage [the outbreak]. There is a difference of opinion, but some doctors say that the type of heat Pakistan experiences, that makes the virus lose its effectiveness [to spread]."

If we exercise discipline for the next month-and-a-half, and avoid going to public places, and if those showing symptoms self-quarantine, then the spread of the virus can be be controlled, he said.

According to the premier, Pakistan faces two major issues if the situation continues to worsen.

"If the number of cases in the country spike, then at least four to five per cent [of the patients] will need intensive care. This can become a serious problem for us [...] we do not have the necessary facilities to deal with this."

The second thing, according to the premier, was panic spreading among the people.

"Panicking is more dangerous for us than coronavirus," he said, adding that the government will not be able to do anything if people start panic-buying.

'Pakistan's situation not comparable to Italy'

However, despite the number of coronavirus cases in the country skyrocketing on a daily basis, the premier ruled out a country-wide lockdown.

"For now we have enforced a ban on all public gatherings. But we are one step behind imposing a total lockdown like in Karachi," Imran said.

"There is a reason for this. Our situation cannot be compared to, for example, Italy; their per capita income and their [economic] situation are much better than ours.

"If we impose a nationwide lockdown, we fear for our daily wage workers and labourers. What will they do for the next [few] weeks?"

Keeping these things in mind, the prime minister said, the government has decided to introduce incentives for the construction industry that will be announced next week, on Tuesday.

"The objective of this is to provide people with employment and to keep the economy running. We do not have the means during this lockdown [....] we don't want that we try to save people from corona but they end up dying due to hunger and poverty."

The second con of a nationwide lockdown, is its effect on the healthcare sector, potentially disrupting supplies and affecting front-line healthcare workers, he said.

Therefore, we are not quite at the point of a total lockdown, and are instead urging our citizens to practice discipline and realise the gravity of the situation, he expressed.

"We are currently in the process of finalising a package, to give incentives to industries [which will be announced on Tuesday]. We will try our best to protect our economy, as well as the labour class, from the negative impact of corona."

'Govt working on compiling accurate data'

Responding to a question from a journalist, the premier said: "Reporting the accurate number of cases in the country, is in our interest."

Because it is in our interest, the government will give daily briefings to the public to make people aware of our "actual position", the premier said.

"My biggest reason for opposing a total lockdown is that the country's common man is the one most at risk. That is why we do not want construction to stop; through this, people will at least earn an income."

He went on to say that the priority of all the countries around the world was to provide a cushion to their people.

"Countries are introducing stimulus packages because they have realised that [the virus] is going to impact their people. We have started brainstorming and will introduce a package by Tuesday to cushion our people in some way."

'Enforcing total lockdown difficult task'

Questioned by journalists about the similarity between the coronavirus situation in the United Kingdom and Pakistan, the premier reiterated that enforcing a lockdown was a difficult task.

"You need to have a lot of other [resources]. Suppose you impose a total lockdown and the virus continues to spread, what options will you have left?"

That is why we have thought about looking for and following clusters, and imposing a lockdown in those specific places, he said.

"The scenario here is completely different."

We are following the situation and taking it step by step, he said, reiterating that the government needed to strike a balance between protecting the people and monitoring the economy.

PM Imran calls for sanctions on Iran to be lifted

During the meeting, Imran also called on the international community to lift the sanctions imposed on Iran during the coronavirus outbreak.

He said Iran is dealing with a difficult time and the lifting of sanctions will help it tackle the outbreak.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had also called for sanctions on Iran to be lifted so that the country can fight the coronavirus outbreak that has caused life in the Islamic Republic to come to a halt.

In a tweet, the foreign minister said: "The entire global community is fighting an unprecedented pandemic. We must, as leaders at [a] time of such great challenge and difficulty, show utmost compassion. Sanctions must be lifted against Iran in this moment of peril so that it can use its resources to save precious human lives."