ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday said the government was expecting a spike in Covid-19 cases by mid of May and the country’s healthcare system could come under significant pressure.
The premier also noted that there were far less coronavirus patients in the country than the earlier estimates because of the government’s timely decision to impose a lockdown.
“We are expecting a tough time between May 15 and May 20 or 25. We feel that our hospitals would be under more pressure,” the prime minister said in his televised address to the nation accompanied by his economic and health teams.
“We were expecting 50,000 cases by April 25, but we were saved from the disaster as we implemented a lockdown in March when there were only a few cases in the country,” he added.
“Our new estimates suggest that we might have 12,000 to 15,000 coronavirus patients by next week. That means that the pressure we were expecting our hospitals to face would now be felt next month.”
The prime minister said the estimated numbers could be reduced if people took the required precautionary measures.
“This will allow the government more space to strengthen its healthcare system.”
The premier said the country could only consider itself victorious in the ongoing war against the pandemic if it also succeeded in preventing a rise in the poverty level.
"When this [coronavirus] will end and there is a rise in the poverty level by that time, it will mean that we have lost the war,” he maintained.
“This crisis will mainly impact the poor class. This is a challenge. If we come out of this [crisis] without bringing more miseries to poor, we will win.”
PM Imran explained that the government had decided to reopen the construction sector and some industries to alleviate the suffering of the working class.
“The biggest problem is that the labour workforce is not registered in our country,” he added. “The government opened the construction industry to protect people from unemployment and hunger.”
He said the government could not provide financial assistance to every individual as it lacked their data unlike Western countries where people had received cash though their bank accounts.
“The government is providing Rs12,000 each to around 12 million families, but there are many others who still require support.”
The prime minister rejected rumours that the relief to the construction sector was an amnesty package. “Its’ meant to support the poor by creating employment opportunities.”
The prime minister said if the poor took to streets because of hunger, it would undermine the whole purpose of the lockdown.
He also urged the rich to extend their support to the poor as no society could survive with an "island of rich and an ocean of poor”.
Commenting on some videos circulating on the social media showing the police torturing citizens for violating the lockdown, the premier said the restrictions could not be enforced by use of force but only by spreading awareness about their objectives and the disease.
“I want them [police] to understand that people will not follow the lockdown with force. The lockdown will only work if people understand that it is for their own benefit.”
PM Imran said some guidelines had been agreed upon for taraweeh prayers in Ramazan during President Arif Alvi’s virtual meeting religious scholars.
He elaborated that prayer leaders must ensure social distancing to avert the closure of mosques in case of a viral outbreak.
The prime minister also warned smugglers, hoarders and profiteers that stern action would be taken against them.
He criticised reports about an increase in coronavirus deaths in Karachi and hospitals there receiving numerous near-death patients, describing them “irresponsible”.
“The National Command and Control Center assesses the situation on a daily basis and such figures can be verified from there before making such statements,” he added.
The premier also rejected claims that the government was hiding coronavirus deaths.
Dr Faisal Sultan, the PM’s focal person on coronavirus, said the government was investigating into the suspected Covid-19 deaths 19 in Karachi.
“Around 15 of the 300 deaths reported in Karachi are suspected to be because of coronavirus, but we are still investigating the matter,” he added.