KARACHI: Holding Prime Minister Imran Khan and federal government directly responsible for the surge in coronavirus cases, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said on Friday that the situation would not have been so bad if the decision of imposing lockdown was made earlier.
“The late decision of lockdown and then from the top [PM] mixed signals started coming down against the lockdown. Therefore, we could not extract the results of the lockdown,” he added.
Concluding the debate on coronavirus in the Sindh Assembly, he said that coronavirus did not spread from Taftan pilgrims but it spread from the people coming from abroad.
He added that over 5,000 people of Tableeghi Jamaat were tested, of them 765 came positive.
“Had my suggestion of imposing lockdown been accepted, the local transmission caused by Tableeghi Jamaat people, who travelled from Raiwind to different district of Sindh and other provinces, would have been stopped on March 13,” he said.
Rs1.09bn of coronavirus fund utilised
He said he had received Rs3.6 billion donations in coronavirus emergency fund against which Rs1.09bn have been utilized so far.
At the outset of his speech, he said that 40 people died on Friday alone, which was the highest number so far. He also prayed for 27 health workers and seven policemen who died due to Covid-19.
Opposition leader calls upon the govt to extend working hours of markets to avoid overcrowding
“We have 57,250 active cases in Pakistan and also pray for their early recovery.” He complimented doctors, nurses, paramedics, health professional, police, Rangers, army and revenue department officials.
He said on Feb 26 he was sitting with PPP chairman and former president Asif Zardari when Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho told him on a phone call that the first case of coronavirus was detected. On Feb 27, on the advice of Education Minister Saeed Ghani, he closed the schools for two days.
The CM said that from the next day, Feb 27, he started hold meetings and on Friday it was the 101st day since coronavirus intrusion.
Shah said that the health department told him that there were only 16 ventilators available in Karachi. In the Feb 27 meeting, he requested Dr Abdul Bari to procure ventilators for the Sindh government because the government procurement procedure was quite lengthy.
“We need vents in emergency and we can’t wait and then we signed a memorandum of understanding for procurement. This is how we started procurement and involved people from the private sector,” he said.
The chief minister said that on Feb 27, the Aga Khan University Hospital had a capacity of conducting 80 tests of Covid-19 per day. The Indus Hospital said that they could also start testing. “I placed an order for 9,600 testing kits,” he said and added within three days the kits arrived and the tests started.
“On Feb 28 we had gathered the data of 45,000 passengers who had come to Karachi from Jan 15 through different flights. We contacted each and every passenger to ask him/her about symptoms and this is how we started,” he said and added the health department deputed its teams at the airport and started screening the passengers landing at the airport though it was the job of the federal government.
“On March 1, we decided to close schools for two more weeks ie March 14. We also decided to close down some recreational places and held PSL matches without spectators,” he said.
He disclosed that he had met with a Covid-19 patient and because of it he quarantined himself from March 8 but did not stop working.
“I kept holding meetings on coronavirus through video calls within the CM Secretariat,” he said, adding. “I got my coronavirus test on March 11 and the result came in negative.”
He said on an invitation of the prime minister he flew to Islamabad along with Health Minister Dr Pechuho and Chief Secretary Mumtaz Shah.
The chief minister said that in the meeting it was pointed out that there were 128,000 coronavirus patients all over the world. At this, he urged the prime minister, who happens to be the federal health minister, to impose a strict lockdown from March 15 to March 31 and also stop all the flights but his suggestion was not accepted.
He said that as per the federal legislative list the federal government was responsible for making quarantine arrangements at the borders but it left it unattended and the Balochistan government did its best at Taftan.
He said that 1,380 pilgrims came from Iran via Taftan and they were kept in quarantine at Taftan.
“When they [pilgrims] came by buses to Sukkur they all were tested, of them 280 came positive,” he said, adding: “We kept them at Labour Colony and with our efforts they all were cured and sent back to their homes.”
Over 7,000 tests a day
Shah said that the testing capacity, which was 80 tests per day in the initial stage, has now crossed 7,000 mark.
“At present 80 per cent tests are conducted by the Sindh government labs,” he said and added Sindh was the only province where testing capability had been developed in nine districts.
Shah said that Sindh had far better and highest testing capacity in the country, even more then the province where the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf ruled for the last seven years.
“I am surprised even then the PTI leaders are asking what the Sindh government has done so far,” he said.
Talking about the federal government, the chief minister said that they had budgeted space of the Benazir Income Support Programme, funds for wheat procurement, international aid, agreement with IMF, which enhanced the borrowing capacity of the federal government and on top of it people had donated to them.
“Despite all these facts, they did nothing,” he said and added contrary to the federal government, the Sindh government had the limit of borrowing only Rs15bn.
He said the federal government should have taken lead in supporting the people as well as the provincial governments, but they appeared to be reluctant.
‘Most transparent’ distribution of ration
Shah said that when the provincial government wanted to get data from the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) for distribution of ration, authorities created unnecessary obstacles just to delay the distribution.
“We have distributed ration in a most transparent manner and it will be proved with the passage of time,” he said.
In the end, the chief minister played a video message of late provincial minister Murtaza Baloch recorded on a mobile phone when he was in isolation. Late Baloch had praised the chief minister and his efforts to contain coronavirus and urged people to strengthen the hands of the chief minister.
He paid rich tribute to the doctors, including Dr Bari, Dr Faisal, Prof Saeed Qureshi and Dr Sara of WHO, and praised their front-line role.
He praised Dr Qaiser Sajjad of PMA, Dr Adeeb Rizvi, Dr Rahim Bux of GIMS.
Call to increase market timings
Leader of the Opposition Firdous Shamim Naqvi said Pakistan cannot afford further lockdown, suggesting extending time duration of markets to avoid overcrowding.
“Separate markets for vegetables and fruits should also be established,” he said and asked the government to open cinemas with social distancing.
He also asked the government to reopen parks and allow recreational activities.
“Opposition and treasury jointly decided to go for lockdown but did we really have a lockdown,” he asked and added that they were not invited in meetings except a meeting called initially.
He was of the view that the policymaking should be done at the federal level while the decisions be implemented at provincial level.
The chief minister should tell the people what were the responsibilities of Sindh and centre after 18th Amendment.
Hailing the federal government for Ehsaas cash distribution programme, he said that if the deserving people were not given Rs12,000 each, they would have taken to streets and resorted to rioting.
As many as 21 lawmakers including PPP’s Ghazala Sial, Naveed Anthony, Jam Madad Ali, Munawwar Wassan, Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, Saeed Ghani, Imtiaz Ahmed Shaikh, Awais Qadir Shah and Taimur Talpur, PTI’s Sidra Imran, Saeed Ahmed Afridi, Arsalan Taj, Shehzad Qureshi, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s Mohammad Qasim Fakhri and Sarwat Fatima, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s Mohammad Abbas Jaffri and Kanwar Naveed Jameel, Grand Democratic Alliance’s Husnain Mirza and Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal’s Syed Abdul Rasheed also spoke.
Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2020