By Uzma Zafar
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Friday the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cannot be brought under control until a vaccine is developed to cure the deadly disease.
Speaking at a media briefing, he said the lockdown enforced to contain the spread of the virus in the country took a toll on 150 million people. He pointed out the government was under compulsion to ease restrictions, noting that the relaxation in the lockdown will increase burden on hospitals and medics as Covid-19 cases will see a surge.
“Scientists say that there will be no vaccine for the virus this year so we will have to live with it,” the prime minister said, stressing that the lockdown can only help contain it and cannot stop it. He said coronavirus cases are far lower than projected in the country at present but they will continue to increase. “Coronavirus cases and deaths were projected to reach 52,695 and 1,324, respectively, by May 14,” he added.
Prime Minister Khan reiterated that the government is taking steps to strengthen the health system to cope with increasing cases of the deadly virus. “Our current health facilities have the capability to cope with coronavirus until the end of June as four to five patients out of every 100 will have to go to hospital,” he expounded.
He said it is up to an employer to implement standard operation procedures (SOPs) to avert spread of the virus, adding places which will see a spike in coronavirus will have to be closed. The government rolled out a stimulus package of eight billion dollars despite financial crunch as compared to packages of 2,200 billion dollars and 1,000 billion dollars announced by the US and Japan respectively in wake of the global health crisis, the prime minister maintained.
He announced people rendered jobless due to the crisis will start getting cash handouts from Monday. Prime Minister Khan urged the people to take maximum precautionary measures to keep the disease at bay. He said closure of public transport is causing hardships to the poor, asking the provinces to open public transport to facilitate the masses.
Speaking on the occasion, Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said more than 500 virus hotspots in the country were locked down two days back. He said the country’s testing capacity has increased by 27 per cent. He said the government pushing ahead with its fight against the coronavirus with a coherent strategy. Dr Faisal Sultan, the prime minister’s focal person on coronavirus, said the coronavirus has detracted focus from other diseases in the country. The country’s progress towards eradication of diseases like tuberculosis and polio can suffer because of the pandemic, he added. Kicking off the address, PM Imran said that people will have to mentally prepare themselves to “live with the virus”.
“Lockdowns are meant to curb the spread of the virus but can they stop it?” he asked, adding that data from Wuhan, South Korea and Germany showed that cases spike again after restrictions are lifted. “I have been saying this since day one that we cannot implement the same lockdown that has been enforced in developed countries […] they don’t have the same kind of poverty that we do.” The premier added that approximately 150 million daily wagers and workers have been affected by the lockdown. “How long can the government continue the Ehsaas programme and how long will Rs12,000 be sufficient for one family?” he asked.
“We know that the country’s cases will increase, but we also know that if we don’t start taking steps [to ease restrictions], people will start dying of hunger. As prime minister I have to think about these people. “Others may be concerned with saving their economies, but I am only concerned about preventing my people from dying of hunger,” he said. The premier added that Pakistan’s coronavirus situation has not proceeded according to initial projections. “We have not witnessed the same things that other countries have witnessed,” he said. He also urged the nation to follow the government’s standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Addressing business owners, he said: “It is very important for you to follow SOPs. If cases rise in one particular area, such as a factory, we will be forced to lock that area down. It will cause you harm. “The nation will have to take responsibility and show discipline so that we can curb the spread of the virus and help those that have been affected.” Touching upon the resumption of transport services, the premier said that a few provinces feared that the virus will spread if public transport is allowed to resume.