Asad Umar says healthcare system not at risk of collapsing despite rising coronavirus cases

Published May 15, 2020
Planning Minister Asad Umar addresses the National Assembly session. — DawnNewsTV
Planning Minister Asad Umar addresses the National Assembly session. — DawnNewsTV

Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Friday warned that the number of coronavirus cases in the country will continue to rise.

He, however, assured the nation that "data and modelling have not shown any evidence that the disease will spread so rapidly that the healthcare system will collapse".

Speaking during the ongoing special National Assembly session on Covid-19, Umar said that if a lockdown could have ended the virus, it would have been proven by at least one country. He pointed out that in countries which imposed strict lockdowns to curb the spread, the disease reemerged after restrictions were eased.

"This is not dengue which will go away if we kill the mosquitoes," he said, adding that the disease will only end once a vaccine is developed.

He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had foreseen the impact of a lockdown in the country on poor people two months ago while many countries were coming to the same realisation now. "You have seen Russia, India and other countries that are reaching the peak of the virus [but] they are easing lockdowns because of the economic implications."

Read: Ease lockdown or face economic deprivation: What should countries like Pakistan do?

He said that the country had pandemic experts, artificial intelligence specialists and data scientists on board and the government made decisions after consulting them.

While talking about the government's tracing, testing and quarantine strategy, Umar said that the government had identified more than 500 areas in the country as virus hotspots and action had been taken to put them under quarantine. "We have seen a lot of benefit from it," he added.

Umar told the session that the country's testing capacity had increased over the past months and in the last 24 hours, more than 13,000 tests had been conducted. Initially, only two labs in the country could conduct tests but now, there were 70 testing labs.

"The National Disaster Management Authority has made arrangements to procure 1,000 ventilators. We have also started two training programmes for healthcare professionals — one on the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) so that they are well-protected and another one on intensive care unit (ICU) equipment," he said, adding that the government was working to improve the health system.

'Inexperienced prime minister'

Earlier, former planning minister Ahsan Iqbal criticised the government for not "putting forward a copy of policy to deal with coronavirus".

During the session, Iqbal pointed out that none of the ministers or representatives of the government were present in the parliament to attend the debate on the ongoing health crisis.

"Like my brother Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had questioned, what is the strategy of this government?" he asked, adding that there was no policy presented before the Parliament even three months after the first case emerged in the country. Iqbal also lashed out at the government for not working with federating units.

"One thing is apparent, this prime minister is sitting on a mountain of ego. He is inexperienced, which is not a bad thing; inexperienced people learn but incapable people don't," he declared.

PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal speaks on the floor of the house. — DawnNewsTV
PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal speaks on the floor of the house. — DawnNewsTV

He said that a handful of countries, which succeeded in controlling the spread of the virus and enforced strict lockdowns, had conducted mass testing and taken care of the sick. While criticising the government's decision to ease the lockdown, he said that the countries that "shut their eyes like a pigeon" are today losing lives "like autumn leaves".

"We are the only country in the world that has eased its lockdown when the disease is spreading rapidly and allowed people to congregate in public," he claimed.

Iqbal also bashed the government for "borrowing people from other agencies" instead of putting government officials to work. He claimed that by engaging officials of the security forces, the government was "defaming the institution".

He further urged the government to beef up the health infrastructure and reinstate local body government in Punjab.

'Stop downplaying coronavirus'

PPP lawmaker Shazia Marri dispelled "myths" being spread about the novel coronavirus, saying that that false claims about the disease will lead people to take it lightly.

PPP MNA Shazia Marri addresses the NA. — DawnNewsTV
PPP MNA Shazia Marri addresses the NA. — DawnNewsTV

She said that myths that the novel coronavirus can be killed by drinking or gurgling warm water or that it only infects old people should be dispelled by spreading awareness.

"Please stop downplaying the coronavirus [...] Please take it very seriously," she urged the parliamentarians and public. She called upon lawmakers to focus on the health emergency that is being faced by the country.

Marri also criticised the government for sending "mixed messages" about coronavirus. She urged the government to "build a clear narrative" so that people would take the virus seriously. "The virus is spreading, this is the time to unite. We need to clear our narrative. We need to clear that this not a normal fever," she said.

She also called on the government to increase health capacity and to work with the provincial governments to ensure that every frontline worker has PPE. She recommended that the Centre devise "one national, cohesive, unified policy" on coronavirus.

"The government should act like a government and not a spectator," she concluded.

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