PTI member of the National Assembly (MNA) Andleeb Abbas on Wednesday lashed out at opposition parties for their undue criticism of Prime Minister Imran Khan's government, claiming that Pakistan's coronavirus situation "would have been worse if the PPP or PML-N were in power".
Speaking during the second sitting of a special NA session to discuss Pakistan's strategy against the pandemic, Abbas reminded everyone that both major opposition parties (PML-N and PPP) had criticised the government for not bringing back students from Wuhan — the epicentre of China's outbreak — which later turned out to be the correct decision.
She called out former prime minister and PML-N MNA Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for alleging that the government did not have a strategy.
"He says we do not have a strategy. Let me tell you about their strategy. If they had their way, they would have brought back our students from Wuhan and then the country would have been in a worse condition than it is right now.
"Look at the United States and Iran. They decided to call back their citizens from China and look at their conditions now."
Abbas said Pakistan was one of the first countries to start screening incoming travellers at airports.
Responding to criticism over poor quarantine facilities at the Pakistan-Iran border near Taftan, Abbas said the government had asked Iran to hold Pakistanis for a little while longer so that better arrangements could be made in Taftan.
"But they [Iran] had refused to do so and the government had to make emergency arrangements for them," she said.
Abbas said until the world came up with a vaccine for Covid-19, people across the globe would have to adjust their lifestyles in a way that both lives and livelihoods could be protected.
"The world cannot hop through this crisis one-legged."
'Is taking care of poor people confusion?'
Earlier, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood expressed regret that instead of joining forces to look for a way to defeat the novel coronavirus, lawmakers were unfairly criticising the government's approach.
Speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, he said opposition lawmakers should "thank God" that Pakistan's condition was not as bad as European countries, where thousands had died.
He further said that while the government had shut down marriage halls, transport, schools etc., a blanket lockdown will have a devastating effect on daily wagers and low-income people.
"They [the opposition] say there is confusion [regarding lockdown]. Is taking care of poor people confusion?" he asked.
Rejecting the opposition's claim that his government wanted to do away with the amendment, Mehmood said the 18th Amendment was a law, "and laws always have room for improvement".
The education minister said the government had included provinces in all decision making, inviting them to be a part of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) and National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) meetings. "This is the [Centre's] level of coordination."
'Govt has no strategy to deal with pandemic'
Meanwhile PML-N leader and former prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, claimed that the government did not have a strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
"I have visited all government websites but I have not seen what the government's strategy is. Can they give even one piece of paper in the Parliament explaining what their strategy is?" he thundered.
Abbasi lashed out at the treasury benches, saying there was confusion over who was responsible for spearheading the efforts to tackle the pandemic.
"Four ministers have [so far] spoken here. Has anyone told us what is going on here?" he asked.
"There are spokespersons [...] then every minister is giving statements. Who is responsible [for handling crisis] in this country?"
He criticised the government for not consulting the parliament while developing a strategy to cope with the health crisis posed by the pandemic.
"They remembered parliament after three months [...] the prime minister gave 12 speeches, could he not have consulted political leaders?" he inquired.
"In situations like these, two policies are developed first: a testing protocol and a treatment protocol," said Abbasi.
"But what is the testing protocol here? If I go to a hospital, I can get tested. Nowhere in the world is this allowed but here people are getting tested for fun."
He called for a "unified national strategy" to cope with the challenge. "You can see a problem is coming. But you have fought with every province," he regretted.
"Making websites and photos won't work, formulate a strategy."
The former prime minister also demanded the government to provide details of the money it spent on medical equipment, the prime minister's volunteer force and other measures taken to combat the virus.
'Govt failed to step up to the challenge'
PPP leader and former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf expressed regret over the government's "failure to step up to the challenge".
Ashraf said New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was the only leader in the world who had taken timely steps to curb the spread of the virus and took her nation into confidence while formulating a strategy.
He added that his party's chairperson, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, was the first leader who had "voluntarily" announced he would extend support to the government in this time of crisis.
Ashraf said it was the prime minister's responsibility to unite the nation at a time when it was facing a great challenge.
"The prime minister dealt a blow to national unity when he left the multi-party conference without listening to the chief ministers."
He also criticised the lack of acknowledgment afforded to the Sindh government for the measures it took to cope with the crisis. Instead, the federal government sent two ministers to abuse the Sindh government, Ashraf claimed.
'Right decision to not bring students back'
MQM-P lawmaker Sheikh Salahuddin, while speaking on the floor of the NA, echoed Andleeb Abbas, pointing out that the opposition had criticised the government for not bringing back stranded Pakistani students from Wuhan.
"But the government did the right thing by not paying heed to opposition's demand. Today, it has been proved that a good decision was made," he said.
All of us responsible for state of health system: Amir Haider
Awami National Party (ANP) leader and former chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, MNA Amir Haider Hoti, called for unity among opposition and government, saying "we cannot fight against coronavirus if we continue to wage a war" amongst ourselves.
He said instead of shifting blame, the parliament needed to take "collective responsibility" as every party had been in power at some point or another. "We are all responsible for the state of our current health system," he said.
Speaking about easing restrictions, he posed many questions to the government: "Have we acted too early, too fast? Have we reached our peak? Have we flattened the curve or are we moving towards herd immunity? Are we all on the same page?"
He also expressed concern over the lack of awareness about the novel coronavirus, noting that there were many people who refused to get tested because of the stigma attached to the virus.
Giving an example, he said the first casualty was reported from Mardan and the deceased had refused to be isolated or seek treatment and only came to the hospital when his condition had worsened.
"Are we going to talk about that? Or are we going to stick to 'I'm good and you're bad'?
"Why don't we listen to Sindh or Punjab's doctors when they tell us something? [...] We all have to take collective responsibility for the increasing number of cases in the country," he said.
More testing needed in remote areas: Dawar
Independent lawmaker Mohsin Dawar questioned the effectiveness of the lockdown imposed across the country, saying that a majority of people, including police officials, did not understand the concept of social distancing.
He said effective containment of the virus was not achieved with life in most areas continuing as per routine. He also pointed out the limited number of tests conducted in the country, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where most of the deaths were recorded.
Testing capacity was even more limited in remote areas, where the virus had mostly spread locally, he pointed out. Dawar emphasised the need to increase the number of tests conducted in those regions.
He thanked frontline doctors and healthcare professionals for risking their lives in order to protect the people of Pakistan.
'Majority of people agree with premier's decisions'
Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul Wazir said true leaders were those who created opportunities during a crisis.
"The entire world has acknowledged Prime Minister Imran Khan's initiative for debt relief for developing nations struggling to combat the coronavirus," she noted.
He also initiated the green stimulus programme under which we employed out-of-work labourers to plant 22,000 saplings, she said.
Citing a recent survey by Gallup, she said that majority of the people have agreed with the premier's decisions to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.
'Our criticism is our advice'
PPP MNA Abdul Qadir Patel said that each and every criticism made by the opposition was advice for the federal government.
"We stand by our demand to bring back students stranded in Wuhan. By all means bring back stranded Pakistanis but make proper arrangements. National borders and infectious diseases are the responsibility of the federal government," he said.
He added that it was understandable that the premier was not in attendance during today's session "due to his age" as "people in that age group were more susceptible to the virus". Therefore, we can excuse his absence, he said.
Qadir said before anybody criticised Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, they should remember that the World Health Organisation was the one to recognise his performance as "the second best".
"They keep pointing out that party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said the province didn't have personal protective equipment for doctors while Murtaza Wahab said we have enough.
"Well we have enough but only due to the personal efforts of the Sindh government, not because of what was given to us by the Centre," he added.
'Govt has failed to protect our protectors'
PML-N MNA Khurram Dastgir said the federal government had failed to control the country's borders and protect frontline healthcare workers.
"They should have closed the borders or at least set up proper quarantine centres. The government failed to prevent the spread of the virus."
He added that the Centre had also failed to "protect its protectors". "They were supposed to protect frontline health workers with personal protective equipment but has that happened? When doctors protested, they were thrown in jail."
He claimed that the federal government's decisions were being taken without revealing the data behind them.
"Give us some statistics, give us some metric to gauge the situation. They imposed the lockdown without revealing the data and lifted the lockdown in the same way.
"They give examples of other countries but take Germany's Angela Merkel for example. She clearly explained that steps will be taken according to the country's infection rate.
"Where is our planning? What are they waiting for?"