Govt to keep nation updated about situation of coronavirus: Imran Khan


ISLAMABAD: The prime minister Imran Khan said government has decided to continuously keep the nation updated about the situation of coronavirus. Accurate information about the deadly virus will be shared with people. “If any information or news about the coronavirus is concealed, it will be injustice with the country and the people,” he maintained.

The prime minister also categorically clarified that contrary to the impression of mishandling of the situation at Taftan border, there was no lapse on the part of Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Jam Kamal Khan and said it is not time of blame-game.

Prime Minister Imran Khan Friday said the government is working on an economic package, including special incentives for the construction sector, to be announced on March 24 to protect the people, industry and the country’s economy from the negative effects of coronavirus pandemic.

The package being prepared by the Ministry of Finance, in consultation and coordination with the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), aims at protecting small industries and the people from lower strata of the society, the prime minister told journalists here.

The prime minister spoke about the measures taken by the government after the outbreak of COVID-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, especially after January 15. He said since the country, with 25% of its people suffering from absolute poverty and the overall poverty at around 40%, cannot afford lockdown of cities. He said the construction sector will be offered special incentives to keep the wheels of economy running by providing jobs to the labourers and daily wagers. The prime minister, however, in response to a question said if required, the government will enforce complete lockdown but will go step by step by initially closing down specific places with enhanced number of patients.

He said the government was in close contact with China after the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, monitoring the situation and started contacts with Iran after the Pakistani pilgrims started crossing the Taftan border. He praised the Chinese government for taking care of Pakistani students in Wuhan and treating them as their own people. He also urged the international community to lift economic sanctions from Iran to enable the country to fight the deadly virus effectively.

The prime minister expressed the fear that if Pakistan faces a spike in coronavirus cases, it will create a serious situation due to its healthcare capacity and hospital facilities. He urged the nation to adopt preventive measures like social distancing and self-quarantine to save themselves from the deadly virus.

The prime minister said the people from media, including journalists, opinion-makers, anchors and owners of media houses, have an important role in dissemination of accurate information and avoiding from sensationalism. The government, he said, will give guidelines to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and other media bodies in this respect. “If the people started panic-buying, there will be shortage of commodities, especially food items, and the prices will shoot up,” he remarked.

The prime minister referred to the media reports about the supermarkets in the United States and other Western countries emptied by the people in panic. “Nobody can tell how long this situation of coronavirus will continue?” he said, and urged the people to fight this war against the deadly disease as a nation.

To a question, the prime minister said he is against the lockdown of cities because of the fact that venders, daily-wagers and labourers in Pakistan cannot survive without earnings. “Our effort, through the economic package, is to bring the lower strata of the society into social network,” he maintained.

To another question, Imran Khan said the government is working on establishment of quarantine facilities in Pakistan for 150,000 expatriates, who are currently trapped in countries facing spike in coronavirus and want to come back to their motherland. After the establishment of quarantine facilities by the NDMA within the next two weeks, the government may allow the overseas Pakistanis to travel back to the homeland, he added.

Speaking on the occasion, NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal said the government has created a capacity of 1600 beds in nine hospitals, including three in Punjab, two in Sindh, one each in Quetta and Gwadar, two in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and two small hospitals in Gilgit Baltistan. Moreover, one ward in all the major hospitals has been specified as an isolation facility, he added.

He said currently 12 million masks are available in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, and another 12 million have been booked with different vendors in Pakistan. Around 100,000 masks are available in Peshawar and 50,000 in Balochistan. He said the distribution of around 12,500 protective suits will start by Saturday for the health workers. Some 2,000 thermal guns have been placed at the entry points of different government departments, while another 30,000 will be imported from China soon. He sid around 1700 ventilators are available across the country, with 600 in private hospitals of Sindh, KP and Punjab.

Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said it was decided in the National Coordination Committee (NCC) that the federal government in coordination with the provincial governments would update the situation of coronavirus on daily basis. The verified data or numbers of the people affected by the coronavirus across the country will be released at the national level, he added. Meanwhile, the National Coordination Committee (NCC) on Friday ruled out the need for an immediate lockdown all over the country to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Advisor on Finance Abdul Hafeez Sheikh said the government will tackle the medical emergency through appropriate response followed by relief to the affected groups and people like airlines, retail businesses and SMEs. Moreover, a stimulus package will be announced to reduce taxes and enhance subsidies to accelerate the jobs creation. He said after consultation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it has been agreed that the expenses to be incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak will not be counted in the country’s deficit. The IMF has also allowed an incentives package to support the industry, which had not been planned earlier, he added.

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