ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced that the government would further ease lockdown by reopening more businesses and industries as the intensity of the coronavirus in Pakistan was much lower than that in Europe and the United States.
He said the country had become self-sufficient in medical equipment required for Covid-19 patients and doctors and paramedical staff as local industries started manufacturing ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) to combat the deadly virus.
The prime minister, who will announce on Saturday a new relief package for labourers and daily wage earners who have become jobless due to the lockdown, urged the nation to be responsible to meet the challenge of Covid-19 and maintain social distancing when more businesses would be reopened.
“Iran and Egypt have opened all businesses by maintaining ban on public gatherings and we will also further ease lockdown by sharing information with these states,” Prime Minister Khan said at a press briefing after chairing a meeting on the impact of Covid-19 in the country.
Imran says virus intensity in Pakistan much lower than Europe and US
He said he had talked to Iranian and Egyptian leaderships and the former informed him that Iran, where the coronavirus condition was worse than Pakistan, had reopened all businesses and industries. Similarly, he added, Egypt had reopened all industries and resumed mega projects by maintaining ban on opening of educational institutions, wedding functions and public gatherings.
The prime minister said the governments of Iran and Egypt had same realisation that they could not let their people die from starvation during lockdowns and, therefore, they reopened all businesses. “Conditions in Egypt are similar to those in Pakistan as the number of patients and deaths due to coronavirus was almost same,” he said, justifying his consideration to further ease lockdown in the country.
The prime minister said no one could exactly claim how long the viral disease would continue to exist unless its vaccine was prepared. “It can go further for six months or a year or its spike can hit again,” he feared.
“Stay at home and observe social distancing when you go to mosques as this is a difficult time for our nation. If you don’t maintain social distancing and don’t follow preventive measures, we will all suffer,” he said.
Package for daily wage earners
Prime Minister Khan said he and his team was aware of the miseries of labourers and daily wage earners and had, therefore, launched the Ehsaas cash distribution programme, while a new programme for them would be announced on Saturday.
Under the programme, the government will contribute Rs4 against every Re1 to be deposited by people in the prime minister’s relief fund.
“The government will contribute Rs4 for every Re1 that people donate to the relief fund,” he said, adding that the government would reach daily wage earners, cart vendors and labourers through SMS campaign and Tiger Force and their credentials would be checked through record in the National Database and Registration Authority.
Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said that although the number of patients and deaths was increasing by every passing day, the coronavirus situation in the country was not out of control.
“During more than two months’ observation and monitoring of the situation, we have become able to make our own analysis and decide our future line of action,” he said, adding that the trend of viral disease was different in Pakistan from European countries and the US and, therefore, the country was doing its own modelling.
“We will decide our future line of action next week and hope that we will be heading towards further ease,” the minister said, adding that the government had extended lockdown till May 9 and would now decide how to proceed further.
He said presently 21 to 22 deaths from Covid-19 were being reported, but that percentage was still much lower than expectations. He said 50 to 60 people were on ventilators across the country.
Talking about economic problems, Mr Umar said that due to the viral disease the country’s revenue target would fall by 30-35 per cent this year. “Pakistan is one of 15 countries which have been hit hard economically by Covid-19,” he added.
Dr Faisal Sultan, the prime minister’s focal person on coronavirus, assured the nation that the situation was “not as bad as in Europe or the United States”. He said the government analysed global and local coronavirus trends before taking decisions. He, however, urged people to adopt all good practices like social distancing they had learnt during the lockdown as the government’s next strategy would base on public behavior.
Comparing Pakistan’s situation with that of Iran which has been badly affected by the virus, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that with only 346 deaths against 5,000 in the neighbouring country, Pakistan was “comparatively in a better position”. He said the total number of Covid-19 patients in the country was 15,800 out of which 4,000 had recovered.
Mr Mirza said the government was “worried about medical workers” and would soon launch a programme for protection of medical staff working on the front lines of the pandemic. He said the country was now producing its own personal protective equipment, but it had been observed that PPE was “not being used rationally” in some places. “We will train medics on proper use of PPE.”
Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar said the government would merge the relief fund with the Ehsaas programme to help labourers and daily wage earners badly affected by the lockdown.
Detailing plans to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, he said their utility bills for three months would be paid by the government. “An estimated 350,000 small businesses would benefit from the programme,” he added.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Sania Nishtar said that all those registered for the Ehsaas cash disbursement programme would receive a message within the next 10 days. She asked people not to visit distribution centres until they received a message from 8171 so as not to create rush in violation of social distancing guidelines. “The government is working on resolving all problems that people are facing in collecting their amounts,” she added.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2020