PM urges unity amid epidemic

-Says Govt can’t win battle alone against virus
-No virus case was imported from China
-Asks provinces to re-assess complete lockdown strategy
-Vows to tailor response according to evolving situation

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that in the prevailing circumstances, national consensus and solidarity by all segments of society including political parties is needed to fight and win the war against coronavirus (COVID-19).
Addressing a meeting of the parliamentary leaders of various political parties through video-link here on Wednesday, the premier said, “The government alone cannot fight and win this war against Coronavirus. We can win this war together as a nation.” In his address, the prime minister briefed the parliamentary leaders about the measures taken by the government since the outbreak of Coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last, particularly, after the arrival of Zaireen (pilgrims) from Iran via Taftan border.
He gave an overview of the government’s response against COVID-19 including the establishment of a quarantine center and a make-shift screening facility at Taftan, a remote area located 700 kilometers from Quetta.
Imran Khan said that with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) having governments in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir and Sindh respectively, the government and opposition parties should sit together and take decisions to fight COVID-19 effectively.
He said that the government’s decision not to bring its students back from Wuhan, despite the pressure from parents and media, went well in terms of checking the transmission of Coronavirus from China to Pakistan.
However, after the outbreak of Coronavirus in Iran, the Prime Minister said that since Iran did not have the capacity like that of China to tackle COVID-19, Pakistani pilgrims had to travel back to Pakistan through Taftan border. Giving the figures of COVID-19 patients in Pakistan, he said, it was a good omen that 153 out of a total of around 900 Coronavirus patients as of March 24, were those who had contracted the virus locally.
The Prime Minister recalled that when there were only 21 Coronavirus cases in Pakistan, the government summoned the meetings of National Security Committee (NSC) and National Coordination Committee (NCC) and decided to go for initial lock-down through closure of educational institutions, suspension of sports activities, suspension of March 23 parade and other gatherings.
PM Khan said that though he was opposed to the idea of complete lock-down for certain reasons, the provinces of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Punjab, which had the authority under 18th Amendment, subsequently went for lock-down including the suspension of transport. As no country in the world initially opted for complete lock-down, the confusion on this issue still persisted in Pakistan, he added.
“We should not go for complete lock-down,” the prime minister said and viewed that the suspension of transport could hurt supply chain and cause shortage of essential items including food and petroleum products.
He said that with Gilgit-Baltistan already facing the shortage of petroleum products, the suspension of transport could also affect the vital economic activities like the harvesting of wheat crop and industrial production and cause unemployment.
PM Khan further mentioned that the government had to intervene to get the port opened on Tuesday after the supply of pulses stopped due to the closure of port.
The Prime Minister said that as there was a continuous worldwide debate on the issue of lockdown, all the stakeholders in Pakistan including the political parties, should also debate the issue and re-assess the situation periodically. “When decisions are taken under fear and pressure, these affect the society,” he remarked and mentioned that 25% of the country’s population was living below the poverty line.
The Prime Minister said that all such issues including lock-down particularly the suspension of transport, would be discussed in the meeting of National Coordination Committee (NCC) on Thursday.
He said that if Pakistan had to go for a complete lock-down and curfew, the government would have to supply food to people at their doorsteps especially those living in slums and Kachi Abadis. Premier Imran Khan said that he would soon announce a programme of volunteers, who would work for supplying food to people at their doorsteps.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday while reiterating his hesitance in imposing a full-scale lockdown in Pakistan urged the country’s leaders to “discuss and reassess” their strategies in order to find a way to tackle the situation brought about by the coronavirus outbreak.
The PM said imposing a national lockdown would be detrimental for the country’s economy, adding that it was not possible to “rationally judge the repercussions of decisions taken out of fear and panic”.
Also read: Locking horns over lockdown.
“Only the nation can defeat corona, no government can do it,” said Imran Khan, while addressing through video link a meeting of parliamentary leaders being chaired by National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser. He told the parliamentary leaders that until yesterday out of the 900 coronavirus cases reported in Pakistan, only 153 were locally transmitted. “In a way this is a very good thing for us,” he said, pointing out that the rest of the cases had been imported from other countries. The premier, while urging leaders to reassess the situation said: “There are types of lockdown; initially we imposed lockdown by shutting down schools and universities and cancelling matches.