Nationwide movement of goods transport allowed

Updated March 28, 2020

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[Clockwise] The faithful, apparently observing social distancing, listen to the imam as he delivers the sermon before Friday prayers at a mosque in Karachi. Worshippers sitting cheek by jowl attend prayers in Peshawar. Law enforcement personnel patrol outside Islamabad’s Jamia Masjid. A police officer standing inside a mosque uses a megaphone to request people to go and pray at home.—AFP / AP / White Star / Reuters
[Clockwise] The faithful, apparently observing social distancing, listen to the imam as he delivers the sermon before Friday prayers at a mosque in Karachi. Worshippers sitting cheek by jowl attend prayers in Peshawar. Law enforcement personnel patrol outside Islamabad’s Jamia Masjid. A police officer standing inside a mosque uses a megaphone to request people to go and pray at home.—AFP / AP / White Star / Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Amid rising cases of coronavirus with another death being reported from Lahore, Prime Minister Imran Khan has lifted the ban on goods transport movement and decided to allow opening of food-related industries to ensure adequate supply of essential items during the nationwide lockdown.

The prime minister announced the decisions at a press conference after chairing a meeting of the National Coordination Committee.

The death toll across the country increased to 10 on Friday after Punjab reported the death of a 70-year-old resident of Sheikhupura at Lahore’s Mayo Hospital.

PM Khan told the presser that so far the country had not been affected as badly as countries like Italy, Iran and the United States. But there was no certainty that Pakistan would not witness a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in coming weeks, he said, adding that the government was preparing itself for the “worst-case scenario”.

In reply to a question why he did not meet leadership of the opposition parties Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif to forge unity to fight deadly virus, the Prime Minister said that those who had “looted public money and were involved in money laundering” were responsible for the people’s plight, hinting that he would not make any contact with them.

• PM decides opening of food-related industries • Admits govt failure to handle influx of pilgrims at Taftan • Toll rises to 10 as another patient dies in Lahore • PTI MPA tests positive in KP

Mr Khan admitted that the federal government and the Balochistan government could not handle the influx of pilgrims from Iran due to inadequate facilities at Taftan. “These Zaireen were not properly quarantined at Taftan, because there was no such facility in the remote area except three small rooms,” he added. On the other hand, he said, no patient came from China where the outbreak was first reported.

Accompanied by federal ministers and his special assistants Asad Umar, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Dr Zafar Mirza, Khusro Bakhtiar, the prime minister said: “Today we have decided [in NCC meeting] to lift ban on inter-provincial movement of goods transport to ensure sufficient food supplies during countrywide lockdown situation so that there is no shortage of essential food items.”

However, he said the ban on other public transport would remain enforced.

He said the meeting also decided to allow opening of food-related industries to meet a surge in demand of essential items because of “panic buying”. But he added: “We have to keep a balance that these factories will work by maintaining all precautionary steps to prevent spread of the viral disease.”

He said the government also decided to keep gas prices stable, form a relief fund and establish a youth force to be called Coronavirus Relief Tigers (CRT) to provide food items at the doorstep of daily-wage earners in case their locality was sealed to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

About the CRT, he said March 31 had been set for registration of volunteers through Citizens Portal at the Prime Minister Office. “We have second biggest population of young people and I would like them to work at a time of need. We will send these tigers all over the country through mapping and in case of further spread of coronavirus these volunteers will provide food to the people in the affected localities,” he added.

Keeping in view the possible decline in the country’s foreign exchange reserves and devaluation of rupee against the dollar, PM Khan said he would urge overseas Pakistani to deposit funds into the account that would be set up at the State Bank of Pakistan to help lift the pressure off the rupee.

Next week, he said, he would announce a fund to be established to provide monetary assistance to daily-wage earners. “The fund will be formed with the help of philanthropists and it will be in addition to the stipend to be given to the deserving people under Ehsaas programme,” he said.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar directed that all shops in the province, including grocery stores, remain closed from 8pm to 8am from tomorrow.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah directed the authorities to ensure closure of shops after 5pm from today (Saturday). Earlier, the government had allowed shops to remain open from 8am to 8pm.

Meanwhile, Tehreek-i-Insaf’s MPA from Mardan, Abdus Salam Afridi, confirmed to the media that he had contracted coronavirus.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2020