ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has extended the lockdown in the country for an additional two weeks, saying that the restrictions as well as other social distancing measures have benefited the country despite the economic costs incurred and announced opening construction as well as several other industries from today (Wednesday).
“An ordinance against hoarders and smugglers is on the cards, arrangements are being made to bring back Pakistanis stranded across the world, a ‘national response’ will be prepared with the help of Ulema, and the Ehsaas emergency programme will continue to function in the future,” Premier Imran announced during a televised media briefing regarding the decisions taken in the National Coordination Committee (NCC), which was attended by the top civil and military leadership on Tuesday.
“Construction industry and other sectors will be opened from today in phases,” the prime minister said, adding that the decisions were taken after consulting all chief ministers and there was “98% consensus among all provinces and the Centre over the reopening of some sectors, particularly the construction industry”.
The premier, however, gave provinces an option to continue with the lockdown for industries if they thought it was too early to lift restrictions.
During the briefing, PM Imran explained that the government was working on issuing two presidential ordinances. “One will provide a stimulus package to the construction industry while the other will curb smuggling and hoarding of dollars and wheat.”
Warning the hoarders, he said, the ordinance would carry severe punishments.
The premier appreciated the people’s cooperation during the lockdown, saying that he was aware of the difficulties being faced by the people but the lockdown would remain in place for schools, colleges, sports events, cinemas or any place where the public could gather for another two weeks.
He said all the steps were being taken to control the spread of coronavirus.
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Imran elaborated on how the government was simultaneously fighting corona as well as poverty and hunger and urged the people to continue taking precautionary measures in order to avoid a spike in the coronavirus cases as Pakistan’s health system would not be able to cope with a sudden rise in such cases.
“One hundred and ninety people should have died so far,” the premier said, shocking the audience for a moment, but then added that the country had less than half the number of deaths than projected.
He warned that the people should “still all be mindful that the virus could spread rapidly at any time”.
In the briefing, Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar said, “The government has identified industries where there is a low risk of spreading of the virus and they will be allowed to operate with standard operating procedures in place.”
The minister said that chemical manufacturing plants, e-commerce for export and local deliveries, software development and programming, paper and packaging units, cement plants, fertiliser plants, mines and minerals, dry cleaners and laundry services, nurseries, units manufacturing agricultural machinery, glass manufacturing, veterinary services as well as books and stationary shops would remain open.
Azhar said, “All export industries whose orders will be confirmed by the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan will also be opened. All these industries will be opened and adhere to the SOPs that have already been provided to the provinces in the past weeks.”
Explaining a difference of opinion on opening of construction sites and granting permission of work to electricians, plumbers, carpenters, tailors, push-cart owners, he said that the Centre, Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were on board, but “others” were not.
“It’s an ongoing process because the coronavirus pandemic is a developing situation and we will continuously review the situation,” he said. “We will review the situation again before Ramazan and open additional sectors if there is any possibility to do so.”
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that the number of cases in Sindh exceeded predictions even though Sindh was the first province to take strict measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. He, however, said that it would be too soon to draw conclusions.
Upon his turn, the Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar briefed the media about the recommendations prepared during a meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) regarding the extension in the lockdown.
Earlier, Special Assistant to PM on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq awan briefed the media about the decisions taken in the cabinet meeting on Tuesday as well as about the review of the Covid-19 outbreak along with the enforcement of restrictions and its fallouts undertaken at the NCOC with all four provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The government spokesperson said that it was felt that the restrictions needed to be extended but certain relaxations related to low-risk economic activities should also be considered.
With a view to minimising the financial hardship that the restrictions have caused for the lower income segment of the society, Fridous said it was mutually decided that all the industries, services and retail of all essential items should continue to operate.
“This includes all industrial and commercial entities that are part of the supply chain of food items, medicines, pharmacy, agriculture, fuel, media, banks and philanthropic organisations,” she later tweeted. The transport of all goods in the country shall also continue to take place without interruption, she said, adding that the restriction on inter-provincial travel will also continue.
Briefing the media about the federal cabinet’s meeting and the decisions taken therein, Firdous said that the cabinet approved the fuel price adjustment, exemption of tax on necessary medical equipment, and a proposal to hand over the administration of Marghazar Zoo — now known as the Islamabad Zoo — to the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board.
An increase in the allowances of the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution pensioners was, deferred, she said.