Lockdown ineffective due to mixed signals from Centre, alleges Murad Ali Shah

Updated 15 Apr 2020

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Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah addresses a press conference in Karachi on Monday. — DawnNewsTV
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah addresses a press conference in Karachi on Monday. — DawnNewsTV

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Monday said that the reason a lockdown has not been effective in curbing the spread of the coronavirus is due to "mixed signals" from the federal government.

Speaking at a press conference in Karachi, the chief minister lamented the fact that despite his repeated warnings, there has been a lot of back and forth from the Centre on how to effectively tackle the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

"The Covid-19 pandemic is not a provincial or a personal matter — I want to say this very clearly. We cannot make decisions in isolation because their consequences affect everybody."

Shah held the presser hours ahead of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) meeting, to be chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, to take policy decisions for containment measures post-April 14.

During today's press conference, Shah maintained that the only way to effectively deal with the pandemic was to learn from the experiences of other countries around the world.

"That's what we did in Sindh, and we have been blamed for enforcing a lockdown without giving it much prior thought. There is no correct way to tackle the pandemic. But, the only way to do so is by taking action," he said.

Shah was addressing rifts between the federal and Sindh governments which came to the fore on Sunday after Federal Minister Faisal Vawda had accused the PPP government of being “inefficient” and failing to contain the spread of the virus.

“Because of the Sindh government’s incompetence, the number of cases is rising,” Vawda had said.

Shortly after, Sindh Information Minister Nasir Shah and Education Minister Saeed Ghani had held a press conference in which they had defended measures taken by the provincial government and called out the federal government for "lack of cooperation".

"We will make mistakes [in the fight against the pandemic] but the biggest mistake is to not take any action at all," Murad said in today's press conference.

The chief minister added that he had tried to sound an alarm about the situation potentially worsening exponentially early on during the very first NCC meeting.

"I had said that we needed to go towards a planned lockdown. It is possible that my advice would have been impractical at the time, but in hindsight, if we had done so, we would not have been in this situation right now."

He added that he was thankful to the rest of the provinces that followed in Sindh's footsteps, and enforced a lockdown.

'Need to focus on saving lives'

Shah went on to criticise the federal government's cash disbursement programme.

The Sindh government had also thought about an effective way to distribute ration, but we had realised that delivering it to people's houses was the only way, he said. "The problem we had encountered was that we required data from institutions such as Nadra to roll out this initiative."

By this time the federal government had introduced their programme, and we supported it wholeheartedly, he said. But we told them that the manner of distributing the cash was not appropriate, he stated.

"We enforced a lockdown to stop people from gathering in an effort to avoid transmission of the disease. But, people gathered in large crowds to receive the cash handout."

"I am tired of repeating this. The pandemic has affected economies around the world, but nothing is more important than people's lives," he said.

"You can revive a lifeless economy but you cannot bring back the dead," he said. The chief minister added that if the coronavirus were to spread to rural areas, there will be no way to stem the spread.

'Federal govt has given too little'

Shah went on to say that the details of all contributions made to the provincial coronavirus emergency fund were available on the financial department's website.

"Our MPAs contributed their salaries towards this fund, and I am thankful to them for doing so," he said. All of the money spent has been put towards the field hospital at Expo Centre, he added.

However, we are unable to procure items, Shah said. "We have asked for help from the federal government in this regard. The federal government is in a better position to bring in ventilators and personal protective equipment."

"We are grateful for what they have done so far, but they have done very little," he said. Provincial governments can only do so much, all points lead back to the Centre, he said.

"If a provincial government can arrange 10,000 testing kits from day one, and an additional 50,000 after that, then we expect more from the federal government," he added.

'Want PM Imran to lead'

Shah added that the provincial government was carrying out targeted testing for coronavirus which has allowed them to effectively manage the outbreak.

"During a meeting two days ago, the World Health Organisation said that Sindh is the only province that is carrying out testing according to the guidelines issued by them," he said.

He added that at least 90 per cent of the Covid-19 tests in the province were conducted free-of-charge.

The chief minister also took the opportunity to tell Prime Minister Imran Khan to form a comprehensive national policy with regards to the outbreak.

"We need a national narrative, or a national action plan regarding this," he said. "We became one on the fight against terrorism after the APS attack. Are we still waiting for the same," he asked.

"We want PM Imran to lead. Do not allow for the lockdown to be compromised in any scenario. Do not say that provinces are free to decide, that will be more painful," he concluded.

'Sindh CM should've informed PM about reservations'

Later in the day, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan regretted that Chief Minister Shah had taken to the media instead of expressing his reservations before the prime minister.

"If you have any reservations regarding any decision or lack clarity over any issue, it would have been better if you brought it up during the [NCC] meeting instead of talking about it on the media," she said in a briefing.

"The prime minister of Pakistan is fighting on two fronts right now. On one front he has to look for ways to defeat the coronavirus and how to ensure the protection of our people from it. For that, we are moving forward in accordance with national policy and narrative.

"On the second front, he has to find a way to shield our daily-wage workers and impoverished class from hunger. For that, we have to develop alternative strategies which will run parallel [to our strategy to deal with coronavirus]."

Awan also responded to Shah's criticism of the Emergency Cash Programme, saying that it was an important step taken by the prime minister to ensure that lower-income people would not go without food and necessary supplies. She told the chief minister to exercise his "administrative powers" in order to ensure social distancing at the centres where people were gathering to collect cash.

She urged Shah to work with the government "as a team with the prime minister as the leader" and "fulfil your responsibilities".

"This is not the time to escape responsibility," she said. Awan admitted that Centre's plans had some shortcomings but said that the federal government "will not take a minute to resolve them".