ISLAMABAD: Again ruling out the possibility of enforcing a complete lockdown in the country, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday urged people to fight coronavirus with “wisdom” and said that a cell had been set up at the Prime Minister Office to ascertain upward or downward trend of the deadly virus in a week after which the government would devise its future line of action.
“We have established a cell at the PM Office to ascertain decreasing or increasing trend of the viral disease in one week and a future line of action will be made after monitoring the situation,” the prime minister said in his address to the nation.
The prime minister feared starvation due to hoarding and once again warned the hoarders and profiteers of exemplary punishment if they hid stocks of food items and exorbitantly increased their prices.
Speaking about food supply, he said there was sufficient quantity of food items in the country, including agriculture products like wheat, rice, pulses and grains. He said the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had decided to give soft loans to those industries which would not lay off their workers and continue to pay them monthly salary.
Before the address to the nation, the prime minister chaired a high-level meeting in which steps taken to stabilise the economy and mitigate the sufferings of the poor and daily wagers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic were reviewed.
PM Khan formally announced the formation of a youth volunteers force called Corona Relief Tigers (CRT) to provide food items at the doorsteps of the poor and daily wagers in case their locality was sealed because of the spread of coronavirus.
He also announced the opening of Corona Relief Fund (CRF) in which philanthropists and overseas Pakistanis can deposit money from Wednesday. He said that those depositing money in the fund would be given relaxation in taxes and the money would be utilised to provide food and cash to 15 million poor and needy people.
The PM Office also issued a National Bank of Pakistan account number of the CRF — 4162786786. Swift code: NBPAPKKAMBR [NBP Main Branch Karachi].
Quoting an example of China, the prime minister said Pakistan had to fight the war against coronavirus with wisdom as the country had no ample resources like China and the United States to impose complete lockdown/curfew and feed people at their homes. The US, he added, had allocated $2,000 billion to offset the impact of Covid-19, while Pakistan had earmarked only $8bn for the purpose.
“But we have two other things with which it [Pakistan] could fight the deadly disease — power of faith and its youth. We have faith that we can win it [war against disease] with unity and faith, one of the basic principles given to us by the Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam, and we have second largest youth population in the world which will be used to assist the government and administration to overcome the disease,” he added.
Defending his decision not to impose the complete lockdown, the prime minister cited an example of neighbouring India where, according to him, lockdown led to multiple complications for which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tendered an apology to his nation and finally lifted the curfew on Monday.
He said the global war against coronavirus was being fought by the countries according to their capacity and resources. “China is the only country which has so far defeated the disease by enforcing a complete lockdown in Wuhan, the epicentre of coronavirus, but during the lockdown, the Chinese government fed people at their homes,” he added.
According to the prime minister, there are stages of lockdown and enforcement of curfew is its last stage. He said the lockdown had started in the country when he announced the closure of educational institutions, ban on public gatherings and functions and passenger transport. “We will go for a complete lockdown only when the government will be in a position to feed people at their homes,” the prime minister added.
Earlier, in the meeting, the prime minister discussed issues relating to food security, construction industry, commerce and trade and energy and provision of relief to the poor.
The meeting was attended by Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Hafeez Sheikh, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Social Welfare Dr Sania Nishtar, SAPM on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Minister for Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar, Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar, Adviser to the PM on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, Minister for Energy Umar Ayub Khan, Adviser to the PM on Energy Nadeem Babar. State Bank Governor Reza Baqir and secretaries of the ministries concerned attended the meeting through video link.
The meeting was apprised that all big industrialists had been directed to ensure payment of monthly salary to their employees and a strategy should be devised with the government for workers of small and medium industries. It was informed that measures were also being taken to provide some relief to the construction industry.
Sania Nishtar briefed the meeting on disbursement of four months’ lump sum stipend of Rs12,000 being given to the poor under the Ehsaas programme and prime minister’s relief package.
In view of the forthcoming wheat crop harvesting season, the prime minister issued instructions to ensure an uninterrupted movement of the people associated with harvesting process.
The meeting decided that a list of industries of essential items would be prepared to provide them all assistance in their function to ensure smooth and sufficient supply of food items. It was decided to form a think tank comprising representatives from the federal and provincial governments to review the food supply and demand situation on a daily basis.
The meeting was apprised that in view of the prevailing situation, 93 international NGOs had been allowed to carry out their relief operations in the country, while applications of 53 other organisations were under consideration.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2020