PM rejects option of imposing another lockdown

Updated June 06, 2020

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Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting on the forthcoming budget on Friday. — PPI
Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting on the forthcoming budget on Friday. — PPI

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday rejected an option of imposing another lockdown in the country.

Speaking at a media briefing, he said the country could not afford to go back to lockdown and urged people to follow the government’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) for curbing the spread of deadly coronavirus.

The prime minister said the government was preparing the budget for financial year 2020-21 in a way to generate more revenue and cut expenses as a shortfall of Rs800 billion in total tax collection had already been witnessed due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Says government preparing next budget in a way to generate more revenue and cut expenses

Endorsing his decision not to impose another lockdown, Mr Khan said that the countries still witnessing an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases were compelled to lift lockdowns. “What these countries had gained from strict lockdown? Their people lost jobs, poverty increased while cases of coronavirus continued to increase there,” he added.

The prime minister said lockdowns had created havoc in the whole world as the nations which were giving loans had themselves come under debts. “We were already facing financial crunch due to huge burden of debts taken by the previous regime and since we came to power we have retired Rs5000 billion as interest on foreign loans,” he said, adding that his government had paid half of the tax collected last year in debt retirement and half of the money was left to run the country.

Talking about the forthcoming federal budget, which is likely to be announced on June 12, the prime minister said the government had to cut its expanses and increase income to combat the coronavirus situation. However, he said the government would impose smart lockdown where required and for which Corona Relief Tiger Force would be used to provide assistance to the people.

“It is important for you [Tiger Force volunteers] to ensure that people follow SOPs because we can’t go back to another lockdown as the country can’t afford it,” he said, adding that if curve of Covid-19 was slowed down by following SOPs, it would reduce pressure on hospitals.

He said the country was already emerging from a difficult situation before the pandemic hit, adding that Rs50 billion was given to the utility stores as subsidy and Rs144bn distributed among the poor under the Ehsaas programme. “How much more money can Ehsaas give? That is why it’s important for the people to ensure the implementation of SOPs.”

The prime minister said the government had reopened industries to provide jobs and work opportunities to daily wage earners. “The purpose of reopening industries was to help the vulnerable. A lockdown for [the privileged] is not a problem, but it is a problem for the working class,” he added.

He said the main objective of the Tiger Force was to create awareness among the masses. “In Pakistan we have 1,700 deaths, we knew corona would spread. We have to understand corona is a virus that spreads when people gather so that is why we need to maintain social distancing. I will give you instructions every day. We will regularly give instructions on what you need to do, what the hotspots are [and] we will guide you,” he said.

“The virus will spread, you can’t stop that. You can lock people up in their rooms and that will slow the spread but this will not end it,” he added.

The prime minister said none of the country’s coronavirus cases was traced back to mosques, despite the government’s critics stating otherwise. “The government’s critics said that the virus will spread from mosques but no cases emerge from there and today the world is opening mosques with standard operating procedures in place,” he added.

He said the transport service was shut down due to the lockdown and food prices skyrocketed as a result. However, he said the government kept up supply to utility stores and got some very good feedback from the Tiger Force volunteers. He urged the volunteers to identify hoarders and inform the district administration to protect people and help the poor.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2020