• Govt claims losses of one-third revenue, 50pc exports
• Asad Umar says decision on lockdown extension tomorrow
• 11 UCs in Karachi sealed to contain virus
ISLAMABAD: Amid the countrywide lockdown, the total number of confirmed coronavirus patients on Saturday surged past 5,000 across Pakistan with nearly half of the cases being reported from Punjab alone.
While disclosing that the government has been losing one-third of its revenue and exports had already dropped by 50pc due to Covid-19, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar told the media that the government would decide on Monday whether to extend the lockdown or ease restrictions after April 15.
He was addressing a press conference along with Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza.
Mr Umar said everyone was facing the impact of restrictions and that was why the rupee had been facing pressure of devaluation.
“However, there is good news that foreign remittances as compared to the last year have increased by 9pc,” he said.
“Moreover, fewer deaths have been reported as compared to different predictive models. Though there were fewer patients on the ventilators, for some weeks, but on Saturday that number reached 50,” he disclosed.
At least eight more coronavirus patients died on Saturday.
The minister told the media that Rs144 billion would be given to 12 million families under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme (EECP). This was the biggest relief package in the country’s history, he announced.
Mr Umar said the prime minister would chair a meeting of the National Coordination Committee on Coronavirus on Monday. All chief ministers as well as the prime minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir would attend the meeting to discuss the lockdown situation. The government would then decide whether to extend the lockdown or ease the restrictions after April 15, he added.
Dr Mirza told the presser that some segments of society believed they would not contract Covid-19 and they didn’t need precautionary measures. “It would be a huge blunder,” he said, advising the masses to take precautionary measures.
He said philanthropists along with the government were actively engaged in relief work. He said: “Serena Hotel and Habib Bank Limited have started a programme ‘Jazba-i-Khidmat’ under which lunch and dinner would be provided to staff of 20 hospitals in seven cities.”
The PM’s aide said that testing capability would be enhanced by the end of April. He said: “Earlier around 800 tests were being conducted daily but for the last few days we are conducting 2,500 to 3,000 tests a day. By the end of this month, we will hold up to 25,000 tests daily.”
About the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), Dr Mirza said that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had distributed 1.7 million face masks, 75,000 N-95 masks, 73,000 gowns, 650,000 gloves, 137,000 surgical caps and 10,000 face shields across the country.
“Moreover, as many as 14 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines have been purchased, with the result that the number of labs, which can conduct tests for Covid-19, have increased from 20 to 27. On Friday, we received 100,000 more testing kits and it has been decided to hand over 50,000 kits to Sindh and 25,000 kits to Balochistan,” he said.
Meanwhile, 11 union committees of Karachi’s district East were cordoned off by Rangers and police on Saturday “to prevent widespread outbreak of Covid-19” after a number of cases in the areas largely comprising defunct Gulshan-i-Iqbal Town were tested positive for the disease.
Commissioner Karachi Iftikhar Shallwani told Dawn late on Saturday night that a total of 154 cases of Covid-19 had been reported from the 11 sealed UCs.
In reply to a question, he said the order of sealing the UCs had not been withdrawn.
Residents of other localities have also been advised not to visit the sealed neighbourhoods to avoid being infected with Covid-19.
Till date, the government has established a number of committees to deal with the Covid-19.
According to an official of the Ministry of National Health Services, initially an emergency operation cell, headed by Dr Mirza, was established to deal with the virus outbreak.
“Then an Emergency Core Group on Corona Virus, headed by Dr Mirza, was established which also had representation of provinces. When the situation aggravated, a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) on the Covid-19, chaired by the Prime Minister, was held,” he said.
“Later, National Coordination Committee (NCC) on Covid-19 was established. The NCC is mostly chaired by the premier and has representation of the provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK. Moreover, National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) was established and its meetings are jointly chaired by Minister of Planning , Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar and NCOC convener Lt Gen Hamood-uz-Zaman Khan,” he said.
Azfar-ul-Ashfaque in Karachi also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2020