ISLAMABAD: Expressing concern over the current Covid-19 situation in the country, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Saturday accused the government of failing to secure vaccines in time and said Prime Minister Imran Khan would have to account for every single rupee of the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
In a statement, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari asked the prime minister to tell the nation as to what happened to his so-called Tiger Force that had been formed last year to implement the standard operating procedures (SOPs) in the country to stop the spread of the dreaded disease.
The statement from the PPP chairman came a day after the prime minister announced that the army would be deployed to assist the police in enforcing the SOPs against Covid-19, fearing that Pakistan could face an India-like situation.
Minister claims vaccine available as per capacity
The PPP chairman said the world was hopeful of ending the pandemic through mass vaccination of its citizens, but unfortunately the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government was dragging its feet on ensuring the availability of vaccines in the country.
“If vaccination continues at the current rate, only 20 per cent of the population in Pakistan will be vaccinated in more than three years,” he said.
“If the government had the will, it would have procured vaccine in large quantities well in time,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said. “Sadly, Imran Khan’s government has only been concerned with free handouts from friendly countries, abdicating all its responsibility to its citizens.”
He said mass vaccination was the only way to avoid the economic problems caused by the pandemic. “Imran Khan must understand that it is not possible to accelerate economic activities in the country without controlling the coronavirus,” he said.
The PPP chairman said had China not donated the vaccine, the process of providing doses to frontline health workers in Pakistan would not have even started. He alleged that the people of Pakistan were suffering due to the complete failure of the PTI government to procure the vaccine in a timely manner. He pointed out that a single dose of a vaccine, which was available for a few hundred rupees abroad, was costing thousands of rupees in Pakistan.
“Covid vaccine is a basic human right, which should be provided free of charge or at least at the real world market price,” he said.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari expressed concern over the Punjab health minister’s statement that people should take the vaccine at their own risk and the government would not be responsible for any adverse reaction, which had stoked fear and suspicion among the people about the jab.
He claimed that the pandemic had gone out of control in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to the “incompetence” of the governments in these provinces, saying the spread of the deadly pandemic could have been controlled through a timely lockdown. He said his party stood by health workers across the country at this difficult time.
The PPP chairman said the third wave of the pandemic was caused by the British variant of the virus which had spread through the country due to “government’s incompetence” in ensuring strict surveillance, isolation and tracing at airports. He recalled that Mr Khan had himself presided over a meeting when he was meant to be in quarantine after testing positive for the virus.
“How can we expect a common man to follow the SOPs in a country where the prime minister himself does not follow government advisories and refuses to take mandatory health regulations seriously?”
Meanwhile, federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry defended the government’s handling of the Covid situation and said that vaccination was not a “short-term” but a long-term solution. The short-term solution, he said, was implementation of the SOPs.
He claimed that the country’s vaccination process was even better than many European countries. He said only India, China and Russia had been exporting the vaccines as the US and European countries had completely banned its export. After the recent crisis in India, he said, only limited quantities of vaccine were now available from China and Russia.
Mr Chaudhry claimed that they had sufficient stock of the vaccine keeping in view the present requirement. “We have the vaccine according to our capacity to administer it presently,” he said. Maintaining a supply chain was a bigger issue than procuring the vaccine, he added.
In reply to a question, the information minister said that Tiger Force still existed in the country but its role had been limited to ensuring supply of ration and other necessary items to the people from Utility Stores amid the pandemic. He said since the Tiger Force volunteers did not have administrative powers, the government had sought the army’s help to ensure implementation of the SOPs.
He refuted a perception that there was a shortage of ventilators in the country. He said at present 567 people were on ventilators against some 1,100 ventilators. He, however, said they were facing a problem in maintaining oxygen supply due to increase in demand and less number of ICU beds.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2021