• Irresponsible attitude of people to result in stricter restrictions, warns Umar
• Gill says govt being wrongly criticised for allowing congregational prayers
• Yaran-i-Watan launched to augment national response to Covid-19
ISLAMABAD: As the confirmed coronavirus cases jumped past 11,700 with 248 deaths, the government on Friday decided to extend lockdown till the middle of Ramazan while cautioning the nation that the anti-virus fight had entered a decisive phase that would set the future course of action regarding the restrictions.
“Today we have decided to extend restrictions or lockdown for another 15 days till May 9,” said federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar while briefing the media about the decisions taken by the Centre and provinces at a meeting held at the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).
He said the second extension in the lockdown was made with consensus though some provinces were demanding longer and some shorter extension in lockdown. “But it was a consensus decision in the meeting [attended by the prime minister and four chief ministers and officials] that lockdown should be extended till May 9,” said Mr Umar, who heads the NCOC.
The meeting also decided that power loadshedding would not be conducted during Iftar and Sehri timings in the country during the holy month of Ramazan, commencing today [Saturday].
The meeting was also apprised that Rs69 billion had been distributed among 5.7 million families in the country under the Ehsaas Cash Distribution Programme.
At a separate press conference, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Sania Nishtar said that in addition to 12 million families [who are being given Rs12,000 as four-month stipend under the Ehsaas cash programme] 19 million families also deserved monetary assistance of the government, but the federal cabinet had yet to decide how the 19m additional families could be supported.
Meanwhile, the federal government in collaboration with the Pakistani diaspora working in the health sector launched Yaran-i-Watan programme.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza at a press conference with Pakistani Norwegian doctor, Usman Mushtaq, said that the Yaran-i-Watan progranmme was launched with the assistance of International Organisation on Migration (IOM) and World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr Mirza said the government was working hard in providing adequate national emergency response, but a critical shortage of different cadres in the health workforce remained a barrier to Pakistan in attaining its health system goals.
To augment this response, he explained, the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination and the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development in partnership with Pakistani and International diaspora organisations launched the health initiative.
This initiative is aligned with the national vision to realize and mobilize the full potential of the Pakistani diaspora community, for the health sector development in Pakistan.
Dr Mirza said Yaran-i-Watan would enable the exchange of knowledge and expertise by curating an integrated platform, developed by the National Information Board of Technology.
It would offer a two-way engagement by connecting the diaspora or overseas Pakistani health professionals with volunteer healthcare opportunities at Pakistani institutions and healthcare providers.
As part of its first commitment, Yaran-i-Watan would launch Covid-19 emergency response to complement the national response during the outbreak.
The digital collaborations would facilitate the diaspora healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, paramedical and allied health staff in providing their services remotely through telemedicine or telehealth companies and health Institutes and facilities in Pakistan, he added.
Many Pakistani health professionals across the world were serving in the frontline fight against Covid-19 and despite their commitments to their residing countries, they were willing to offer assistance to Pakistan, the PM’s aide said.
Earlier, Mr Umar said the NCOC also gave final approval to the ‘smart lockdown’ system that would be implemented across the country from Saturday.
“Today Prime Minister Imran Khan and all chief ministers have given final nod to the system which will be implemented with the help of provincial governments even at the level of tehsils,” the minister said.
Mr Umar said although the holy month of Ramazan was a month of prayers, people would have to maintain social distancing because the month of May was quite crucial in terms of the spread of highly contagious Covid-19.
“We again reviewed the trend of Covid-19 and reached the conclusion that Ramazan is a decisive month, because if we continue to adopt precautionary measures we will be able to head towards normalcy after Eid and more business will be opened, but in case of irresponsible attitude of the people, we will have to enforce stricter restrictions,” the minister warned the nation.
Dr Nishtar told the press conference that Ehsaas web portal, which had been launched by the prime minister two days ago, had started functioning. She said the website of Poverty Alleviation Department had details of Ehsaas cash programme.
She said that in addition to the 820,000 beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), who had been removed from the programme a couple of months ago, more than 12,000 beneficiaries were removed on Thursday.
She said the Ehsaas programme was one of the biggest and transparent social welfare programmes in the history of the country. “Except removal of 832,000 ineligible beneficiaries, the data of 2010 was being used to provide cash to the poor and daily wage earners during lockdown. Beneficiaries in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have more beneficiaries than in Punjab,” she added.
She said the whole process of distribution of Rs12,000 stipend would be completed within the next 15 days and that people who received SMS with date of receiving should wait for their turn and must not rush to the collection points.
At the same press conference, PM’s aide Shahbaz Gill said that a specific political party in a province was wrongly criticising the government for allowing congregational prayers during Ramazan. “The prime minister has to take care of all segments of society and ulema are one of them,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2020