Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said that the government has decided to set up a "Corona Tigers Relief Force" which would enlist youth volunteers from across the country to help deal with coronavirus relief efforts.
He made the announcement while addressing journalists in Islamabad. "We have a large youth population in our country which is our asset; we need youngsters in the fight against coronavirus," he said. He added that registrations for the relief force would begin from March 31.
"It is important to understand that when China enforced a lockdown, it delivered food to people's homes. We did not have any such infrastructure ... for this we are setting up the special youth force, we will deliver food and other necessities to people through them."
The premier added that although coronavirus had not spread as widely in Pakistan as in some western countries, there was "no guarantee" that Covid-19 cases would not rise sharply in the country in coming weeks. He said that the government was preparing for the "worst-case scenario".
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Reiterating his concerns about the impact of a lockdown in the country, the premier said that he would announce the "Prime Minister's Corona Fund" next week to provide money to labourers and daily-wagers etc so they could buy food for their families.
"We will register all such people in our Ehsaas programme. People all over Pakistan will contribute money which will be given to them [families in need]."
Calling the coronavirus situation unprecedented, he said that such a thing had not happened before and that was why it took time to coordinate a national response.
Denying rumours of a food shortage in the country, Khan said that the problem had arisen because transport of goods between provinces had been restricted and people had started hoarding foodstuffs out of panic.
"All the provinces decided today that there will no restrictions on inter-provincial transport of goods," the premier announced, adding that the government was trying to work out a mechanism with the provinces to keep the essential industries (such as those associated with food products) running while minimising the risk of spreading the virus. "We have to be careful in our efforts to control the spread of coronavirus to not create a situation whereby people start dying from hunger."
The premier also added that he would open an account in the State Bank of Pakistan and ask overseas Pakistanis to contribute remittances to it so that reserves could be boosted and pressure on the rupee could decrease.
Responding to a question about the screening and quarantine measures at the Taftan border, the prime minister said that the area was "barren" and the Balochistan government did not have enough funds to provide adequate facilities to pilgrims and traders arriving from Iran.
"Dr Zafar [Mirza] went to Taftan after the first case was reported and when he returned and gave us the report, we were horrified. Because the [area] lacked basic facilities.
"We can't call it mismanagement, there was no management there at all," the premier said.
We have enough food supplies
Minister for National Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar, who was also present during the meeting, said that the country has enough supply of wheat and other food to last until the next season. "The government has taken stock of seven essential food items in all districts and any shortages will be overcome through inter-district transfer of food resources.
"We have 1.6 million tonnes of wheat reserves; wheat procurement has started in Sindh and will start soon in Punjab too. We have enough to last until the next season."
The minister added that with the cooperation of the provinces, the gap between demand and supply would be bridged within a few days and prices of wheat and pulses would reduce.