PM orders opening of all highways for goods supply

March 30, 2020

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This file photo shows the Karakoram Highway which links Pakistan to China. — AFP/File
This file photo shows the Karakoram Highway which links Pakistan to China. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday ordered removing all hurdles in the way of transportation of goods and opening all national highways to ensure smooth and adequate supply of food items from farms/factories to markets amid “panic buying” due to deadly coronavirus scare.

He reiterated his commitment to providing ration at the doorsteps of the poor and daily wage earners — who are said to be the worst-affected segments of population during the countrywide lockdown enforced to prevent the spread of Covid-19 — through a force of young volunteers he is going to formally form on Monday (today).

Mr Khan issued the directives while presiding over a meeting of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) core committee at the Prime Minister House.

The meeting was informed that the government had started providing personal protection equipment (PPE) to all medical practitioners, including doctors and paramedical staff currently performing their duty in different hospitals, and intensive care units (ICUs) and quarantines had been established across the country for coronavirus patients. In case of death of any of the medical practitioners during duty, he/she would be given Shuhada [martyr] package, it was told.

Set to formally form force of young volunteers today

“The core committee was apprised that although the prime minister had ordered restoration of movement of goods transport in the whole county a couple of days ago, almost 80 per cent of goods transport was still off the road due to certain restrictions made by provincial governments, including blocking of national highways,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said at a post-meeting press conference.

She said the prime minister was quite concerned over reports about shortage of food items in many parts of the country and ordered strict action against those involved in hoarding, black marketing and charging exorbitant prices. She said the prime minister had held consultations with the provinces and would announce a road map to ensure smooth supply of essential items across the country.

Prime Minister Khan, she said, was informed that there was sufficient quantity of food items in the country, including agriculture products like wheat, rice, pulses and grains.

Talking about the youth volunteer force to be called Coronavirus Relief Tigers (CRTs), the SAPM said: “Prime Minister Imran Khan has once again expressed confidence in the youth of the country and hoped that they will help the government in meeting challenges coming due to the deadly virus.”

She said a fund of Rs10 billion had been allocated for supply of ration and provision of Rs4,000 each as stipend to the poor and needy people. “In the first step, 2.5 million people already registered under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) will get Rs4,000 per month through Easypaisa and those who are not in the database will get the money through relevant deputy commissioners,” she said, adding that those BISP beneficiaries who were already getting monetary assistance would not get Rs4,000 stipend as it was specially meant for the poor and daily wagers who had lost their source of income due to the countrywide lockdown.

Dr Awan said the PTI-led government of Punjab would provide Rs4,000 stipend to 8,000 poor families in all 302 constituencies of the provincial assembly.

The provincial government, she said, would establish eight laboratories to fight coronavirus and had started the process of appointment of 10,000 doctors and paramedical staff. “These labs will carry out 3,200 tests in a day to exactly ascertain the number of coronavirus patients in the province.”

She said that in order to give recognition to the services of doctors and other medical practitioners, the government would give them one-month additional salary and provide Shuhada package to those who would lose their lives while performing their duty.

The SAPM said the PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had allocated a sum of Rs32bn to fight the deadly disease, of which Rs11.4bn would be spent on providing ration and stipend to 1.9 million poor families. She said the coverage of the BISP under the government’s flagship Ehsaas programme was being enhanced and 5m more beneficiaries were being included in it. The provincial governments of KP and Punjab would give additional Rs2,000 per month to the BISP beneficiaries, she added.

Ms Awan said the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was establishing five coronavirus testing laboratories in the country, including two in Karachi, which would double the authority’s capacity to conduct test of suspected patients.

Opposition’s role

Responding to a question about the role of the opposition, Dr Awan said the opposition leaders should help the government in this time of need and avoid criticism for mere criticism. “If they are criticising the government, they are in fact criticising those sons and daughters who are performing their duties in every field of life by putting their lives in danger of coronavirus spread,” she added.

She said the prime minister was treating all provinces equally and those being ruled by opposition parties – AJK, Gilgit-Baltistan and Sindh – were also given the same assistance by the Centre which was being given to the provinces being ruled by the PTI.

Indirectly criticising Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, the SAPM said: “Those opposition leaders whose families were outside the country should open treasures for the people because they [opposition leaders] had earned because of people and now it is time to pay them back.”

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2020