Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said that Pakistan is "an independent nation" while addressing a question regarding the government's decision to continue to keep mosques open even as Muslim countries around the world have decided to keep them closed in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I felt very bad when I saw police beating up people. Ramazan is a month of worship, people want to go to mosques.
"Do we forcefully tell them to not go to mosques? And if they go, will the police put worshippers in jail? This does not happen in an independent society. In an independent society [we] make people come together. In an independent society, people use their independent minds and then decide what is better for the country and what is not," the premier said.
He reiterated that the nation was "fighting against the coronavirus together". The prime minister also clarified that the government will be forced to review its decision if worshippers fail to follow the 20 guidelines agreed upon by religious scholars.
"I would urge people to pray at home but if you want to go to mosques, keep in mind that you will have to follow these 20 points," he said. "If [these points] are not followed and if this virus spreads through any mosque in Ramazan then we will have no choice — and this has been agreed upon — but to take action and close [the mosques]."
Meanwhile, the prime minister's focal person on Covid-19 Dr Faisal Sultan said that the premier would get tested for coronavirus after coming into contact with a coronavirus positive person.
The premier had met Faisal Edhi last week who tested positive for the virus today.
Sultan also revealed that coronavirus infections in Pakistan were expected to reach 12,000-15,000 by the end of April, as projected by government experts.
Noting that 17 people died in the country of the virus on Monday, he said: "A serious situation is ongoing; we are comparatively in a better situation and we have to maintain it.
"For maintaining it we need to follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) especially for our elderly."
Minister rebukes India over 'ridiculous narrative'
Planning Minister Asad Umar, who is also heading the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), told the media that recommendations to implement a "smart lockdown" have been discussed with provincial chief ministers, health ministers, and chief and health secretaries.
He said that a structure has been made that will enable the targetted lockdown to be implemented on all levels, from provinces to Union Committees.
The minister said that the government was mobilising all resources available and expressed the hope that once the new system was implemented, citizens would be able to work and economic activities in the country can resume.
Umar also addressed the "ridiculous narrative" that is being propagated by the Indian media that Pakistan, through Azad Jammu and Kashmir, was sending infected people to India in order to spread the novel coronavirus.
"What Mr Modi did by gathering 10,000-15,000 people in one place — [following that] Pakistan does not need to do anything and nor do we [intend to].
"For God's sake, take care of your citizens. First, you blamed Muslims as if this (virus) was spread by them, now you are blaming Pakistan — stop this, take care of your citizens and we will take care of ours," he said, addressing the Indian leadership.
Govt launches ration portal
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Welfare Dr Sania Nishtar announced that the government was launching an online rations portal where people who want ration could submit a request.
She said this was being done to streamline the distribution of ration after it was observed that in some areas, a number of people received a lot of ration while others did not receive at all.
She requested volunteers to help people fill the application form on the portal, saying the government would carry out wealth profiling and remove duplications. She added that the portal would help connect people who wanted to donate and charitable organisations with deserving people.
Economic package for people who have been laid off
Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar announced that the government would place a package before the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) for approval that is aimed at providing relief to people who have been laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"This will be a huge programme which will include hundreds of thousands of people," he said, adding that its media campaign would begin as soon as the package was approved.
The minister also said that the government would bring two more packages — one related to electricity bills for small businesses and another for people who did not have the collateral to procure loans.
Azhar revealed that the programme would be brought forward with the help of the finance ministry and the State Bank of Pakistan.
Will consider smugglers as 'national criminals'
Calling the coronavirus a "test for the entire world", the premier in his concluding remarks said that for Pakistan, the final test would be how it took care if its weakest sector. "The government will make full efforts to help its weakest sector."
He said that the government would be harsher towards those caught smuggling during this "difficult time" than ever before, adding that he considered such smugglers to be "national criminals".