ISLAMABAD: Urging people to maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday warned that the viral disease would increase in the days to come and announced that distribution of Rs12,000 four-month stipend among 12 million poor and daily wage earners will start from Thursday (today) through 17,000 points across the country.
Meanwhile, the National Coordination Committee (NCC), headed by the prime minister with participation of all provinces, decided to open all airports of the country for PIA flights to bring back those overseas Pakistanis who wanted to return to the country amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The prime minister also urged the country’s youth to get themselves registered with the Coronavirus Relief Tiger Force (CRTF) to help the poor and daily wage earners and provide them food and medical assistance.
“It is a misconception that this pandemic is spreading slowly in the country as the number of our deaths has been low so far and it will not spread rapidly; it will become worse in the days to come,” Prime Minister Khan said at a press conference.
Says distribution of Rs12,000 four-month stipend among 12m poor people will start today; NCC decides to open all airports for PIA to bring back overseas Pakistanis
He was accompanied by Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, SAPM on Social Welfare Dr Sania Nishtar, SAPM on Youth Affairs Usman Dar and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chairman Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal.
“If we don’t take preventive measures, the deadly disease will rise in the country like it did in Europe and will create a lot of trouble for us,” the prime minister said, adding that people had to adopt social distancing by themselves as lockdown was not a solution and the government and police could not keep people in their homes by force.
He warned that if people did not do self-social distancing, the deadly virus would spread at a faster rate and put burden on the healthcare system. “Pakistan cannot afford a complete lockdown, which was imposed in China or European countries, and I ask people to take precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus.”
Talking about the Ehsaas programme, the prime minister said: “Today I am quite happy that we are going to launch the country’s biggest social welfare programme under which 12 million families of poor and daily wagers will get Rs12,000. The government will distribute the relief money from tomorrow [Thursday] among lower-income people who have been hit by financial crisis due to the ongoing lockdown.”
He said the money would be distributed from 17,000 points across the country. “The programme will be free from any political influence.”
The prime minister said that although the country had limited resources, the power of youth and generous behaviour of the nation would help overcome the deadly pandemic.
On the occasion, Asad Umar spoke about the decisions taken by the NCC and said the Centre and provinces had decided to enhance the schedule of PIA’s international flights by opening all major airports of the country. “Earlier, we had decided that special PIA flights would only be operated from Islamabad to bring back those overseas Pakistanis who wanted to return to the country, but there is a good news today that the committee decided that these flights would also be operated from other main airports of the country,” he added.
He said all arrangements had been completed to test passengers and keep them in quarantine for a specific period.
Giving details about the Ehsaas Relief Programme, Dr Sania Nishtar said CNIC numbers being sent by people through text messages on 8171 had passed through several stages so that the government could be sure that they qualified for the programme. “So far 35 million people have sent applications to get relief fund,” she added.
Dr Nishtar said only one member of a family would receive a message even if multiple members of the family had sent their CNIC numbers and data was being cross-checked with the information in the database of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra). “The families, whose heads have passed away but their deaths have not been registered, can call helpline 0800-26477 to get assistance,” she added.
Prime Minister Khan said the CRTF volunteers had been instructed to help the people who had not been able to send their CNIC numbers to get themselves registered for the emergency cash fund. He said that so far 750,000 youths had got themselves registered with the force. “I urged that more and more young people should become the part of the force to help people in need,” he added.
He reiterated that the safety of doctors and paramedical staff, who were in the frontline force, was a top priority of the government to provide them the required personal protective equipment (PPE). He, however, expressed sorrow over the doctors’ protest in Quetta over lack of facilities being provided to healthcare professionals.
The NDMA chairman said: “PPEs have been delivered to 18,000 medical professionals in Punjab, where the calculated demand was for 6,000 people. Similarly, in Sindh, supplies for 15,000 medical professionals had been delivered, where the calculated demand was for 9,000 people. In Balochistan, the calculated demand was for 2,000 medical professionals, but supplies for 8,000 people were delivered.”
He said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had demanded 900,000 PPEs in written, adding that the province had earlier been delivered 10,000 PPEs.
He said other federal territories were also being provided PPE and other medical supplies. He said that 100,000 additional testing kits would be received from foreign countries soon, adding that as of now 22 testing labs were operating in Pakistan.
Lt Gen Afzal said there was a shortage of technicians, but an advertisement had been given out and applications from all over the country were being received.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2020