ISLAMABAD: Expressing concern over the “ambiguous government stance” on lockdown and rise in the number of coronavirus patients, opposition members of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) on Monday called for imposition of a more strict and uniform lockdown all over the country.
The opposition members were of the view that a unanimous strategy for the lockdown might be evolved to avoid confusion among the masses.
Taking part in the meeting from Karachi through a video link, parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the Senate Sherry Rehman drew the attention of the committee to statements issued by members of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), including some federal ministers, against the Sindh government over handling of the coronavirus situation and registered her protest.
Another PPP leader and former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also called for adopting a clear lockdown policy.
PML-N boycotts special parliamentary committee meeting
Parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Mushahidullah Khan boycotted the meeting when National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, who was presiding over the meeting as the committee’s head, did not give him the floor despite his repeated requests.
According to sources, as soon as the speaker gave the floor to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi for making concluding remarks, saying that the minister wanted to leave early as he had some other engagements, Mr Khan stood up and protested for not being allowed to speak. He then left the venue after making a brief speech without a mike in which he termed the convening of the parliamentary committee meetings a useless exercise.
In the previous meeting too, Mr Khan had a verbal clash with Mr Qureshi over the issue of the government’s decision to establish a Tiger Force to fight Covid-19.
It was the third meeting of the committee, which was also attended by the health ministers of all the provinces, representatives of Azad Kashmir and the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan.
At the outset, Sherry Rehman called for devising a strategic policy plan for the country, instead of “disaggregated inputs and questions”. She said the members must be given health and economic updates before start of the meeting so that they could use the time to build better and coordinated responses.
“None of the ministers present has an answer to my query about why certain federal ministers have been tasked to run press conferences against Sindh and the PPP,” she said, adding that they “need to build a national policy and a united narrative, not this bickering”.
“We need to fight corona not each other,” she said.
Sindh Minister for Health Dr Azra Fazal apprised the committee that despite inadequate medical facilities and increasing number of coronavirus cases in the province, the provincial government was trying utmost to cope with the situation. She said the situation of coronavirus might worsen in the coming weeks and suggested a “strict lockdown” to stop local transmission of the virus.
Speaking at a news conference, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also expressed surprise over the federal government’s decision to ease lockdown at a time when the disease was expected to spread at a faster pace. He said when there were four deaths per day, the government had imposed lockdown and now when the country had recorded 25 deaths in a day, it had decided to ease the lockdown.
Punjab Minister for Health Dr Yasmin Rashid briefed the committee on situation in the province. She told the committee that so far 58,000 tests had been conducted in the province, out of which 3,721 had been diagnosed positive for Covid-19. She, however, said that 2,100 coronaviruspatients belonged to Tableeghi Jamaat, Zaireen and jail inmates.
Dr Rashid said an aggressive strategy had been formulated to carry out coronavirus tests in Lahore being the epicentre to assess the exact quantum of people affected by the virus. She said the quarantine and isolation facilities had been intensified in different parts of the province, besides enhancing the testing capacity of 3,000 to 21,000 tests per day.
Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman apprised the committee that 2,667 tests had been conducted in the territory, out of which 265 were positive. He said the recovery rate of Covid-19 patients in Gilgit-Baltistan was 70 per cent. He stressed the need for extending financial support to Gilgit-Baltistan since its economy was dependent on tourism and agriculture which had been severely affected. He asked for inclusion of destitute persons from GB in the federal government’s Ehsaas financial assistance programme and Benazir Income Support Programme.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2020