Govt to make wearing face masks in public mandatory: Dr Zafar Mirza

15 May 2020

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Dr Zafar Mirza addressing the nation on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
Dr Zafar Mirza addressing the nation on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said on Friday that the government will make wearing face masks mandatory in public places, adding that a notification in this regard will be issued soon.

"So far, the government has been recommending that people wear masks when visiting public places. However, we have now decided to make it mandatory as lockdowns have been eased. We will issue a notification in this regard," he said in a televised press briefing alongside Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Mirza also commented on an agreement between a subsidiary of Ferozsons Laboratories and the United States-based Gilead Sciences for manufacturing and selling remdesivir — an experimental antiviral drug that is being used to treat coronavirus patients.

"The US company has signed agreements with six companies across the world, of which one of them is from Pakistan. Not only will we be manufacturing the drug for our use, we will also be exporting it to 127 countries," he said.

Provinces to decide on opening malls: Hammad Azhar

Industries minister Hammad Azhar elaborated on the decisions taken to allow businesses to open.

"When the coronavirus outbreak began, we first allowed shops selling essentials and medicines to open. In the next phase, we allowed the construction sector to open and then almost three weeks later allowed the second phase to commence.

"Today, after consulting with the industries ministers of all provinces, we have decided to open the automobile industry, which includes car making industries and their showrooms, motorcycle industries and their showrooms and bicycle warehouses, from Monday.

"Currently the wheat harvesting season is going on and this is the peak time for this industry where they make the most amount of sales."

He added that shopping malls were also discussed during the meeting.

"Majority of the provinces were of the opinion that big shopping malls have a regulated atmosphere, where [citizens'] entry and exit can be controlled and strict SOPs can be implemented.

"They also thought that by opening malls, crowds at small markets can be reduced. There were some differences of opinion, which is why we have left this decision up to the provinces," he said.

He added that those businesses with small electricity connections of 5KW and 70KW which are now receiving bills, will find that their bills, for the next three months and of the current month, have been paid.

"They will see money to cover the expenses of their electricity consumption for the next three months," he said, adding that this credit can be used for more than three months according to their consumption.

'Learn to live with the virus,' says PM Imran

Kicking off the address, PM Imran said that people will have to mentally prepare themselves to "live with the virus".

Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the media. — DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the media. — DawnNewsTV

"Lockdowns are meant to curb the spread of the virus but can they stop it?" he asked, adding that data from Wuhan, South Korea and Germany showed that cases spike again after restrictions are lifted.

"I have been saying this since day one that we cannot implement the same lockdown that has been enforced in developed countries [...] they don't have the same kind of poverty that we do."

The premier added that approximately 150 million daily wagers and workers have been affected by the lockdown. "How long can the government continue the Ehsaas programme and how long will Rs12,000 be sufficient for one family?" he asked.

"We know that the country's cases will increase, but we also know that if we don't start taking steps [to ease restrictions], people will start dying of hunger. As prime minister I have to think about these people.

"Others may be concerned with saving their economies, but I am only concerned about preventing my people from dying of hunger," he said.

The premier added that Pakistan's coronavirus situation has not proceeded according to initial projections. "We have not witnessed the same things that other countries have witnessed," he said.

He also urged the nation to follow the government's standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Addressing business owners, he said: "It is very important for you to follow SOPs. If cases rise in one particular area, such as a factory, we will be forced to lock that area down. It will cause you harm.

"The nation will have to take responsibility and show discipline so that we can curb the spread of the virus and help those that have been affected."

Touching upon the resumption of transport services, the premier said that a few provinces feared that the virus will spread if public transport is allowed to resume.

"We have not taken a decision [regarding this]. Whatever decision we take, we have to think about how we can help the vulnerable [because] public transport is for the poor. We will be making their lives more difficult."

The premier also announced that cash handouts under the Prime Minister's Coronavirus Relief Fund will begin from Monday. The main objective of the fund is to help those who have become unemployed due to the virus, he said.

Imran concluded the press conference by adding that Pakistan will emerge as a "stronger nation" from the current crisis.

"From here on out till the end of the year, make up your mind that you will have to live with corona [...] we will have to live with it until we have a vaccine," he reiterated.