ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting at his Banigala residence on Thursday.—INP
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting at his Banigala residence on Thursday.—INP

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is supposed to be under quarantine after having tested positive for Covid-19, came under severe criticism from the opposition for presiding over a meeting of his media team at his Banigala residence on Thursday.

The opposition said the prime minister had himself violated standard operating procedures despite the third wave of the dreaded disease and called for registration of an FIR against all those people who attended the meeting for violating the SOPs.

Prime Minister Khan had tested positive for coronavirus on March 20, just a couple of days after receiving an anti-Covid vaccine.

Interestingly, none of the government’s spokesmen could defend the prime minister adequately on his act of chairing a meeting during quarantine period and many of them avoided to engage media personnel over the issue.

The criticism of the prime minister began soon after a picture of the meeting was posted on social media by Senators Shibli Faraz and Faisal Javed, who attended the meeting.

Clad in a grey tracksuit and joggers, the prime minister appeared to be fine and healthy in the picture. The picture showed him sitting in a room on a sofa at some distance from his media team comprising Mr Faraz, Mr Javed, Yousuf Baig Mirza and Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari.

In messages posted on social media platforms, people wondered whether it was necessary for the premier to hold an in-person meeting. They asked why he did not chair the meeting through one of the many video conferencing applications available.

According to the SOPs formulated by National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), a Covod-19 patient has to be quarantined for nine to 14 days. However, Prime Minister Khan attended the meeting only four days after testing positive for the disease.

When contacted, Minister for Planning and Development and NCOC chairman Asad Umar said the SOPs only suggested precautions and participants of the meeting were sitting at a reasonable distance from the prime minister.

He, however, admitted that it was better to avoid such meetings during the quarantine period.

Yousuf Baig Mirza, who was among those who were present at the meeting, rejected the criticism and said the meeting was held after taking all precautionary measures as per the SOPs.

“We did not touch each other and all of us were wearing masks. We did not take anything to eat and drink and sat with a reasonable distance from the prime minister during the 45-minute meeting,” he said.

He said the prime minister’s main purpose was to give information to the people about subsidies being given to them on the occasion of Ramazan.

Soon after the meeting, Senator Javed posted pictures of the meeting on his Twitter account and revealed that the prime minister and his wife, who is also suffering from Covid-19, were fine.

“Masha Allah both PM and the First Lady are doing fine, Alhamdulillah. The PM will soon start coming to the office,” he said.

For his part, Pakistan Medical Association’s general secretary Dr Qaiser Sajjad said that patients suffering from Covid-19 should not meet people.

Commenting on the PM’s meeting, he said: “There are chances of transmission of coronavirus. If it is necessary to hold meetings, the prime minister should use the option of video conferencing as the virus rapidly spreads in closed areas,” he said.

Talking to Dawn, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said the prime minister violated the SOPs and gave a message to the entire nation that there was no need to follow them.

The heads of states and governments should set examples for the public. “But here the prime minister is himself encouraging people to violate the SOPs,” she added.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2021

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