• Reveals ISI system being used to track Covid-19 patients
• Says government has option of imposing ‘smart lockdown’ in areas where SOPs are not followed
• Disagrees with Sindh government decision to enforce complete lockdown
• Ehsaas telethon yields Rs550m

ISLAMABAD: As congregational prayers/Taraweeh commence in hundreds of thousands of mosques across the country on Friday (today), Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned ulema and khateebs to adhere to the already agreed 20-point standard operating procedures (SOPs) to avoid the spread of coronavirus, otherwise strict action will be taken against mosques’ managements.

He reiterated this in the second Ehsaas Cash Programme Telethon held on Thursday to fetch donations for the PM’s Corona Relief Fund. Pledges of Rs550 million were made by philanthropists and institutions, taking the total fund to over Rs2.676 billion.

The prime minister said that the track and trace system of the ISI was being used to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“ISI has given us the track and trace system, which was being used against terrorism. [It] is now being utilised against [the spread of the] coronavirus,” he added.

Mr Khan said under this system coronavirus patients could be tracked through computer.

Earlier, Prime Minister Khan along with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the Inter-Services Intelligence headquarters where ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed briefed them on internal and external challenges, including the impact of Covid-19.

When asked by media persons at the telethon why the government had allowed holding of congregational prayers in mosques despite reservations expressed by doctors, the prime minister said the permission was given keeping in view the psyche of people who rushed to the mosques during the holy month of Ramazan for prayers and Taraweeh. “I know my nation. I knew people had to come out [to pray] during Ramazan,” he said, adding: “We knew that people will definitely go to the mosques even after the government stops them by force. We did not want to send police to the mosques to impose ban on congregational prayers and for arrests.”

The prime minister said the doctors across the country were justified in demanding a strict and complete lockdown because they were on the frontlines of the battle against coronavirus.

He, however, warned that action would be taken against the managements of mosques in case of violation of the 20-point SOPs agreed upon by ulema of different schools of thought after a meeting. “We will close those mosques where violation of SOPs will be committed,” the prime minister said, adding that now it was a responsibility of ulema to implement the SOPs.

The SOPs state that there will be no carpets in mosques and Imambargahs; people will be encouraged to bring their own prayer mats; social distancing will be observed; no discussions will be all­ow­ed in mosques; mosques which have compounds will hold prayers outside; elderly and sick people will not come to mosques; Taraweeh preparations will be made only on mosque premises, not on roads; people will be encouraged to offer Taraweeh at home; mosque floors will be washed with chlorine disinfectants; prayer mats will also be disinfected with chlorine mixture; congregational rows will be formed with a six-foot distance between worshippers; committees will be formed to ensure preventive steps are followed; ablution should be performed at home; mandatory wearing of masks at mosques; no handshakes or hugs will be allowed; worshippers will refrain from touching their faces; people will be encouraged to perform Aitekaf [prayers in isolation] at home; no preparations for sehri and iftari will be made in mosques; mosque administration will remain in contact with local police and cooperate with them; mosque administration and police will be asked to ensure social distancing is maintained during prayers; and the government can review and change any part of its policy on mosques during Ramazan if these measures are not being followed or the rise in (Covid-19) cases is exponential.

The prime minister stressed the need for offering prayers at home and staying indoors during Ramazan. “No government can solve coronavirus [crisis] on its own and the whole nation has to contribute to the efforts that will be needed to defeat the pandemic in the coming days,” he added.

He said the government had to show flexibility when ulema argued that mosques could be allowed to open with SOPs just as some other sectors, such as the construction industry, were opened with orders to follow certain SOPs. “The government has the option of imposing a smart lockdown in areas where people are not following the SOPs for congregational prayers,” he added.

Justifying his decision to impose a “relaxed” lockdown, the prime minister said there was a backlash where the complete lockdown or curfew-like situation was created in any part of the world, except China where everything was provided at doorsteps when complete lockdown was imposed in Wuhan.

Mr Khan disagreed with the decision taken by Sindh government to enforce a complete lockdown and asked his critics to “go and visit low-income areas and katchi abadis in Islamabad and Karachi and see how long the residents of these areas, who live in overcrowded neighbourhoods, could be kept under a lockdown”.

Responding to a question about the government’s assessment vis-à-vis coronavirus, the prime minister the viral disease and its adverse impact on the economy would increase in the days to come, especially in May. “If it [virus] increases with the same pace the country will have arrangements till May 20, but after that there will be serious problem,” he warned.

He, however, said there was a hidden opportunity in the pandemic to improve things and expressed the hope that after this the country would emerge as one of the developed states on the globe.

Talking about the government’s response to the health crisis, the prime minister reiterated that there was no “political interference” in the Ehsaas cash disbursement programme as the entire process was computerised under which Rs144bn had been distributed and Sindh shared the biggest chunk.

Responding to a question about reopening of some industries during the lockdown, he said that International Monetary Fund (IMF) had included Pakistan in the list of 70 countries for providing relief in debts due to the global Covid-19 crisis and some relaxation from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) would help implement his plan to improve the industrial sector by giving incentives to industries and businesses.

During the telethon, pledges of Rs550m were made by philanthropists not only from inside the country but also from other countries by overseas Pakistanis, taking total fund to Rs2.676bn. Some senior cricket stars who were part of the Pakistani squad that won 1992 world cup under the captaincy of Imran Khan also made telephonic calls. They included Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus. Prominent cricket commentator Iftikhar Ahmed, who is residing in Canada these days, also talked to the prime minister. During the event, Jazz Mobile offered to double the donation to be sent through its network.

Prime Minister Khan said he did not start fundraising to help those affected by the lockdown until he “fixed financial controls”. “There has never been such a transparent programme [Ehsaas] in the country’s history,” he added.

Asked if the money collected for construction of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams could be diverted to the Covid-19 relief fund, the prime minister said: “The dam fund remains in its place. The Rs14 billion or so allocated for the dams will go that way.”

Later, religious scholar Maulana Tariq Jamil offered prayers and quoted a Hadith of Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), saying once the Prophet had asked his companion Hazrat Bilal to inform people to offer prayers at home during heavy rains.

PM, army chief visit ISI headquarters

Prime Minister Imran Khan, Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, along with federal ministers and advisers, visited the ISI headquarters. The prime minister was received by ISI Director General Lt Gen Faiz Hamid.

A comprehensive briefing covering the entire spectrum of internal and external challenges, including the impact of Covid-19 was given to the prime minister.

According to an official press release, Prime Minister Khan emphasised that no effort would be spared for security, integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. He appreciated the sacrifices and contributions of the ISI.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2020