Virus toll not severe: PM

-Says Covid-19 damages still low as compared to US, Europe
-World is now moving towards reopening
-Asad Umar says decision on further lockdown strategy to be taken next week

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said that the death rate in Pakistan from coronavirus is much lower than feared, media reported.
Addressing media on coronavirus situation in the country, the prime minister said that the intensity of Covid-19 was still low in Pakistan as compared to other countries, especially the United States and Europe.
He said that as compared to our expectations, fewer coronavirus cases were reported till today (April 30). PM Imran said the world is now moving towards easing restrictions and Iran which was also hit hard by a coronavirus, has now allowed a phased reopening of its economy and lifted restrictions.
“I talked with Iranian president yesterday and they [Iranian govt] has decided to remain shut schools, universities, cinemas and has allowed reopening of economic sectors,” he added.
He said that under the Ehsaas programme, Sindh has been provided the maximum funds to facilitate the deserving and poor people.
The premier said that the government will donate Rs4 for every Rs1 that people donate to the premier’s corona relief fund. He added that the fund would be used to help those who have lost their jobs because of the lockdowns enforced to curb the spread of the virus.
‘Situation under control’
Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar Coronavirus situation is different and “under control” in Pakistan as compared to other countries, especially the United States and Europe.
“An increase in death rate has been witnessed but the situation is still under control,” Asad Umar stated.
He further said that at least 21 to 22 people die due to the Covid-19 on a daily basis and the death rate is expected to increase in the coming days.
He added that the government is devising strategies keeping in view the situation of the country with regards to the coronavirus.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza has said that the government has decided to launch programme for the protection of health workers who were playing a frontline role in the fight against Covid-19. The PM aide highlighted that so far, 346 people have died of the deadly disease across the country.
The coronavirus count has reached 15,759 in Pakistan as 874 new cases reported within 24 hours in the country, he said and added that Pakistan was now producing its own personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We will train medics on the proper use of PPE,” he concluded.
Pakistan’s situation was relatively “better” than the other countries hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Thursday. PM Imran said the real number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan is less than the projected one as of April 30. “We imposed a lockdown when we had 26 cases and the public also cooperated with us.
“When you compare Pakistan to other countries, then our situation is much better. We were assuming that our hospitals would be full by now but then our situation is much better,” he said.
The premier said he spoke to Hassan Rouhani and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Iranian and Egyptian presidents, respectively. “Iran has now decided to close large gatherings such as weddings and schools and open up all businesses,” the PM said. “They also fear that their losses due to unemployment are bigger than that from the coronavirus.”
Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan
The Cairo leadership, he said, “decided on the first day to lock down large gatherings but they tried to make sure the construction sector remained working”. “Egypt’s and our tally is the same and their economic condition is similar to ours. Our lockdown was much stricter than them but the deaths remained the same.
“We decided to share both our experiences in the future,” PM Imran added, noting that his team of ministers knew that daily wagers, labourers, waiters, and taxi drivers would be the “worst-affected” of all.
“I would like to congratulate Dr Sania [Nishtar] for the Ehsaas [Emergency Cash] programme. It is a proud moment for us.”
The prime minister explained that the money disbursed to deserving people was based on relevant data and not political affiliations. Sindh, he noted, received the highest number of payments under the Ehsaas programme.
“I was very happy to see that the lowest strata of society could get the money. We have so far distributed Rs81 billion,” he said.
“The second programme we are starting… I had decided to keep the money [that was] gathered from the relief fund for the unemployed,” he added, noting that an SMS campaign would be launched soon and that the new project to support people out of jobs would require proof of unemployment — a plan the government was working on.
“For every rupee donated, the government will match it with Rs4 in the fund,” the premier said, adding that the ‘Corona Relief Tigers Force’ had been informed to set up a desk in each union council to check who has been unemployed.
“There are many white-collar workers who have been unemployed and who will not come forward,” he said. “We will use the Imams of mosques to know who the unemployed people are. “We will provide [assistance to] them under the fund,” he stated, before expressing his gratitude to Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar for launching a programme for the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
With regard to the overseas Pakistanis stranded abroad due to international flights disrupted over coronavirus pandemic, PM Imran said he understood that they wished to return home.
“I have instructed Moeed [Yusuf] to give all the details and tell the difficulties in bringing them back,” he said, referring to his special assistant on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning. “Overseas Pakistanis are our biggest asset,” he noted. “It is our responsibility to take care of them and I have instructed our embassies to take care of them.”
The PM, however, added that he was aware of the pressure on the embassies. PM Imran said his focal person on coronavirus, Dr Faisal Sultan, was tasked to coordinate with the doctors and provinces, explaining that “our policy is made on the analysis they share” and the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) took that into account before moving ahead.
He said he recently learnt that different Pakistani industries had started making ventilators at a very cheap price. “We are thinking of exporting those items,” he said. Federal Minister for Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said the government will make a decision on the lockdown strategy after May 9 next week. Umar said he had urged the premier to call an NCOC meeting next week to discuss the issue further.
He said that when coronavirus cases were first reported in the country, the government was concerned that the situation will get out of hand.
“The cases and death toll both started to increase but the situation did not get out of hand,” he said. “Since the past three days, more than 20 deaths have been reported on a daily basis. There is a concern that the death rate will rise further [in the coming days],” he said.
Umar said that the poor and the destitute were bearing the brunt of the coronavirus impact. He called on people to be responsible and protect themselves and in turn, others from the coronavirus.
Dr Sultan, the PM’s focal person on coronavirus, said the Pakistani authorities were keeping an eye on the coronavirus situation as it was evolving in Pakistan and around the world.
“We are analysing it [data] and taking decisions accordingly. We have enough data for Pakistan to ensure that accurate decisions are being taken,” he added. He underscored that while the government has come to the conclusion that the pandemic is not spreading as fast in Pakistan compared to Europe, it did not mean that people let go of precautionary measures.
“If we adopt these [precautionary measures] we will be able to take better care of ourselves and the people around us which will enable the government to relax these restrictions,” he said.
“Right now, the distribution of the personal protective equipment (PPE) has concluded. The NDMA [National Disaster Management Authority] made procurement from abroad,” he noted, adding that apart from the N-95 masks, all other types of protective gear were being produced locally.
Dr Mirza explained that that the NDMA had formed a new mechanism, under which hospitals were being given the PPEs directly. However, “the issue now is that the PPEs are being used irrationally”, he observed.
“This is why we are launching a programme to educate our health professionals,” the special assistant added, noting that more than 1,700 volunteers of the ‘Corona Relief Tigers Force’ worked in the medical field.
“We have given them another questionnaire so we can use them in the TTQ in the union councils,” Dr Mirza said, referring to the national strategy for test, trace, and quarantine (TTQ).
Addressing a news briefing along with his aides in Islamabad, the premier added that he had “thought that our intensive care units (ICUs) would be filled by now but that is not the case”.
Echoing his words, the Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar assured that the country’s coronavirus situation is “not out of control”.
He added that Pakistan’s trend was different from European countries so the country was doing its own modelling. “It is true that we have a big number of cases and deaths. The number of deaths will increase in the coming days but our situation is not as bad as other countries,” he said. He added that easing of the lockdown after May 9 depended on whether people were following the restrictions and social distancing measures. “I urge you all to cooperate with the government [in following preventive measures] even more stringently than before.”
Dr Faisal Sultan, the prime minister’s focal person on coronavirus also assured the nation that the situation was “not as bad as in Europe or the United States”.
He added that the government analysed global and local coronavirus trends before taking decisions. Comparing Pakistan’s situation to neighbouring Iran which has been badly affected by the virus, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that Pakistan was “comparatively better off”.
Mirza said the government was “worried about medical workers” and would soon launch a programme for protection of medical staff working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
The SAPM said that the country was now producing its own personal protective equipment (PPE) but it had been observed that PPE was “not being used rationally” in some places. “We will train medics on the proper use of PPE.” He added that the government would also provide psychological support to those working on the front lines. The prime minister said that the government will contribute Rs4 for every Rs1 that people donate to the premier’s corona relief fund. He added that the fund would be used to help those who have lost their jobs because of the lockdowns enforced to contain the spread of the virus.
Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar said that the government would merge the relief fund with the Ehsaas programme to help labourers and daily-wagers who have been affected by the lockdowns.
While detailing plans to help small businesses during the coronavirus, Azhar said that their utility bills for three months would be paid by the government. An estimated 350,000 small businesses would benefit from the programme, he added.
Adviser to the premier on social protection and poverty alleviation Sania Nishtar said that all those who have registered for the Ehsaas cash disbursement programme would receive a message within the next 10 days. She urged people not to visit the distribution centres until they received a message from 8171 so as not to create rush in violation of social distancing guidelines. She assured them that the government was working to resolve all problems that people were facing in collecting their amounts.
The prime minister concluded by urging people to stay at home and observe social distancing when they went to mosques. “This is a difficult time for our nation. If you don’t maintain social distancing and don’t follow preventive measures, we will all suffer,” he said.