NA debate on virus remains inconclusive

Updated 16 May 2020

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Minister says PM’s ‘smart lockdown strategy’ is being followed by many countries. — APP/File
Minister says PM’s ‘smart lockdown strategy’ is being followed by many countries. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The three-day session of the National Assembly, which had been requisitioned to debate and review the coronavirus situation in Pakistan, concluded on Friday without any constructive outcome as the treasury and opposition kept trading barbs during the sitting.

The treasury benches accused the opposition of not supporting the government in the fight against coronavirus, while the opposition criticised the government for failing to have a clear “strategy” to effectively deal with the situation.

In an unusual happening, a lawmaker from Kurram district, Munir Khan Orakzai, fell to the floor and was immediately taken out of the house.

Briefing the house on the government measures to deal with the situation, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiative Asad Umar said the sagacious ‘smart lockdown strategy’ of Prime Minister Imran Khan was being followed by many other countries. He said the number of Covid-19 cases would continue to surge.

Minister says PM’s ‘smart lockdown strategy’ is being followed by many countries

The minister, however, rejected the opposition’s claim that the government had lifted the lockdown when the cases of Covid-19 were going up. “Most of the speeches were not more political gimmickry during the session,” he said, adding that some opposition members said the disease could prolong for even six months and that the people should not live a fearful life. “We know that the pandemic will rise in the days to come and unfortunately more deaths will take place, but simultaneously we have to provide earning facilities to the poor and working class,” he added.

He said: “Data and modelling have not shown any evidence that the disease will spread so rapidly that the health system will collapse. Things are still under control.”

Economic implications

Endorsing the PM’s strategy to ease lockdown restrictions, Mr Umar said: “Prime Minister Imran Khan had foreseen the impact of a lockdown in the country on poor people two months ago while many countries are coming to the same realisation now.”

The former finance minister explained that Russia, India and other countries, which were reaching the peak of the virus spread, were easing lockdowns because of the economic implications. Lockdown was not a permanent solution to the Covid-19 issue because reverse attack of the pandemic had been witnessed in some countries like in [Wuhan, the epicentre of the viral disease in China], North Korea and Singapore. “If a lockdown could have ended the virus, it would have been proven by at least one country,” he said.

Pakistan had pandemic experts, artificial intelligence specialists and data scientists on board and the government made decisions after consulting them, he said, adding 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.

The minister said the country’s testing capacity had also been increased. “Initially, we had only two coronavirus testing labs in the country in the month of March but now we have 70 labs,” he said, adding that during the past 24 hours, more than 13,000 tests had been conducted.

Mr Umar’s views were supported by Dr Fehmida Mirza, who said the lockdown was imposed as a “breather” to improve the country’s health structure, social safety nets and economic indicators. “Now we are in a better position to combat Covid-19 with better health and social welfare facilities and economic strategies,” she added.

‘Cooperative federalism’

Ms Mirza highlighted the need for what she called cooperative federalism in which both the opposition and government could work together to face national disasters.

Earlier, former planning minister and lawmaker of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Ahsan Iqbal criticised the government and the prime minister for presenting no “strategy” to combat Covid-19 and called the prime minister “incapable” to run the government. “If he is inexperienced, it is not a bad thing because inexperienced people can learn, but incapable people don’t,” he said.

“What is the strategy of this government and no policy has been presented before parliament even three months after the first case emerged in the country,” he said, criticising the government for not working with federating units.

Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker Shazia Marri criticised the government for sending “mixed messages” about coronavirus and urged it to “build a clear narrative” so that people could take the virus seriously.

She said the government should act like a government and not a spectator.

Later, the session was prorogued.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2020