• In address to nation says Covid situation can deteriorate
•Decision on educational institutions next week
•Businesses to remain open
ISLAMABAD: As Covid-19 infections continue to rise, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday imposed restrictions on public gatherings, once again calling on citizens to observe standard operating procedures (SOPs).
He also suspended Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s public gatherings and asked other political parties to follow suit.
In his address to the nation after the National Coordination Committee (NCC) meeting which he chaired, Prime Minister Khan called on people to wear masks and maintain social distance. However, the much-awaited decision on closing of educational institutions was delayed till next week.
He said winter vacations could be extended in schools and colleges in case the situation worsened.
“If the winter vacation is extended, summer holidays will be restricted to one month,” he added.
Mr Khan said marriage ceremonies had been allowed only in open areas and the number of guests restricted to 300. Industries and businesses will remain open.
“This is the time to take precautions as Covid-19 cases in Pakistan have increased by four times in the past two weeks. If we do, we can slow down the virus. Just like earlier we were saved due to following precautions, that time has come again,” he added.
The prime minister said the government had been monitoring the trends of the spread of the virus in the country, adding that Pakistan had been “very lucky” during the first wave of Covid-19.
“The government is concerned that hospitals in major cities would be full like in June if people didn’t follow the SOPs,” he feared.
He said it was being reported that the virus had mutated and was spreading “at an even greater speed”, and expressed the fear the situation in Pakistan could worsen even more than in June — when the country saw its first peak of Covid-19.
He said the easiest safety precaution that everyone must take is to wear a mask when out in public, which can help slow the spread of the virus.
He ruled out closure of factories, shops and “anything that affects people’s livelihoods”, but stressed that all businesses must follow the recommended SOPs.
“This [situation] is a test for the country and the entire world. If we take precautions together as a nation in the coming winter, as we did earlier, we will be able to not only save lives but also keep our economy and businesses afloat so that unemployment doesn’t rise in Pakistan,” he said.
In view of the prevailing situation, the Senate Secretariat issued a circular on Monday, postponing all standing committee meetings till further orders. The National Assembly Secretariat, on the other hand, has not taken any decision in this regard and its parliamentary panels will meet as per routine.
When contacted, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said the prime minister had not announced a ‘blanket ban’ on public meetings, rather postponed government gatherings and asked other political parties to do the same.
He said a public meeting and the inauguration of a project in Rashakai was to be held, which had now been delayed.
“We have urged other parties to suspend their public meetings as people are at risk of contracting the virus in public places and can then spread it among their loved ones,” he added.
The joint opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement has three public gatherings in its schedule to be held in Peshawar, Multan and Lahore on Nov 22, 30th and Dec 13, respectively.
Responding to a question on the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) sit-in in Faizabad, the minister said the protesters had gathered on a sensitive issue, therefore the government had no intention to disperse them forcefully.
It may be mentioned here that in a late night development, the prime minister tasked Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri to negotiate with the TLP leaders to resolve the issue.
PM Covid-19 fund
The prime minister chaired a meeting of the policy committee overseeing the Prime Minister’s Covid Relief Fund to review fund utilisation details.
The initiative was taken in March this year to raise funds for Covid-19 patients.
The fund received generous donations from within Pakistan and overseas. An amount of Rs4.8 billion was accumulated in the fund of which Rs1.08bn was donated by international donors and Rs3.8bn contributed domestically.
Earlier this year, the prime minister had publicly announced two policies with respect to this fund, committing that the amount would be disbursed through Ehsaas Emergency Cash to assist people who have lost their jobs due to the virus.
Secondly, a ‘matching funds policy’ was announced which stipulated that for every rupee donated into the fund, Rs4 would be matched by the government.
To fulfill this promise, Rs19.55bn has been contributed by the government as a result the total amount in the fund is Rs24.43bn.
The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) revealed that 2,128 people tested positive for the virus throughout the country on Nov 15 and 19 lost their lives during the last 24 hours.
According to the data, total active cases in Pakistan were 28,048 as of Nov 16 and 29,511 tests were conducted till Nov 15. As many as 323,824 people have so far recovered, which was a significant count.
The data further said there was no patient on ventilator in Azad Kashmir and Balochistan. However, 206 vents were in use across the country out of 1,859 allocated for Covid-19 patients.
A total of 359,032 cases have so far been detected in the country with Azad Kashmir reporting 5,455 cases, Balochistan, 16,407; Gilgit-Baltistan, 4,452; Islamabad 24,218; Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 42,370; Punjab 110,450 and Sindh 155,680 cases. As many as 7,160 people have succumbed to the virus.
Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2020