Fighting COVID-19: Punjab govt announces Rs10b relief package

Massive waiver of provincial taxes given to boost economy

Imran Adnan March 29, 2020
Workers at a poultry shop wait for customers as business slumps in the provincial capital. PHOTO: RIZWAN ANWAR/EXPRESS

LAHORE: Apart from the federal government’s relief measures, the Punjab government has announced a Rs10-billion relief package for the poor strata of the society besides waiver of Rs18 billion provincial taxes.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar made this announcement while addressing a media briefing on Saturday. He also announced an addition month’s salary for doctors and paramedic staff attending to coronavirus patients in the hospital in the province.

Chief minister highlighted that the government had decided to provide Rs4,000 per family to 2.5 million households which would cost the Rs10 billion.

“The government of Punjab will make sure that the poor and daily wagers are not left alone in their time of need,” he underlined.

“The government has also decided to give remission of 90 days to prisoners except those convicted in heinous crimes. Recommendations are being prepared for under trial prisoners and will be forwarded to the federal government soon.”

The chief minister said the coronavirus pandemic had crippled economic activities in the province and the country. The government has decided to give Rs18 billion tax concessions to put the economy back on track after the end of coronavirus disease.

He pointed out that the virus was spreading in Punjab at a fast pace. The government had enforced Punjab Infectious Diseases Prevention and Control Ordinance, 2020 across the province and revised working opening hours from 08:00am to 08:00pm for essential businesses and services.

The ordinance will give legal cover to the local administrations and the efforts of health professionals to control the spread of viral disease and help authorities take strict action against violators of the partial lockdown.

In the past 24 hours, the chief minister highlighted that 82 new cases of coronavirus have been reported across Punjab. The tally of confirmed cases has reached 490, including 481 active cases. So far five deaths have been recorded across the province. The data shows that the provincial capital has a total of 116 coronavirus patients and three have lost their lives till Saturday.

Meanwhile, presiding over a special meeting the chief minister directed the authorities to accelerate research activities for the eradication of coronavirus at the earliest. The participants of the meeting were told that four study groups had been constituted and research has been started under the supervision of the University of the Health Sciences.

It was highlighted that two biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) lab have started working in Jinnah hospital and PKLI and eight new BSL-3 labs will be functional at divisional level. The experts briefed the meeting participants COVID-19 found in Pakistan was quite different from the coronavirus of Wuhan and Iran.

The chief minister directed the authorities concerned to manufacture personal protection equipment (PPE) ie safety suit at the local level. The meeting was further informed that a textile owner from Lahore has offered to manufacture PPE voluntarily and free of cost.

Buzdar said that coronavirus should be treated in a scientific manner. The government wants a complete eradication from this menace. He said standard SOPs for the home quarantine should evolve as soon as possible. He said that the government wants to get the ability to setup 200 beds field hospital as soon as possible.

The meeting was informed that China has offered to setup a hospital in Punjab besides deputing Chinese doctors there to cope with coronavirus.

Vice Chancellor University of Health Sciences Prof Dr Javed Akram, Prof Mahmood Shaukat, Secretary Specialised Healthcare and Medical Education and other officials attended the meeting.

However, shortage of essential commodities remained persistent in various cities across Punjab. Citizens complained about scarcity of wheat flour, pulses and cleaning items.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, All-Pakistan Goods Transporters Association General Secretary, Nabeel Mahmood Tariq, highlighted that supply situation would improve substantially as the government has allowed free movement of goods transport in this emergency situation.

“Some transporters have parked their vehicles following announcement of partial lockdown and sent their driver on leaves but now they have called them back. The wheel of goods transport has started rolling and soon the situation will improve,” he maintained.

To check artificial shortage and profiteering, the local administration has also strengthened its monitoring mechanism. The district administration, on Saturday checked the availability of products and prices at 216 point in the provincial capital.

It found violations at 21 points and registered cases against five shopkeepers and sent one to jail. It also imposed Rs43,000 fine on shopkeepers and vendors for violation local price laws.

On Lahore Deputy Commissioner’s direction, the local administration has also decided to launch FIRs against shopkeepers for selling wheat flour at higher rates.

Though, motorways are closed for passenger traffic across the province but several cases have been reported in the province where citizens are using goods transport for commuting between on city to another. Police high-ups have asked their field force to take strict action against transporters violating ban on passenger movement in wake of coronavirus spread across the country. Police has established pickets at entry and exit points of the city to check illegal movement of passengers through cargo trucks.

While announcing the package, Punjab Minister for Finance Hashim Jawan Bakht said cognizance has been taken of the economic impact on businesses and people, especially those who would lose jobs as a result of COVID-19.

“The economic package will help the health sector and the PDMA cope with the crisis with an immediate funding of Rs11.5 billion and provide social welfare coverage of Rs10 billion to more than 2.5 million households with a monthly stipend of Rs4,000.

“Healthcare workers are our frontline warriors in this war against coronavirus. We have announced a one month honorarium for the healthcare workers. In case, a healthcare worker loses his life, a martyr package has also been included in our COVID-19 package,” Bakht added.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2020.