ISLAMABAD/ KARACHI: Pakistan on Friday witnessed a sharp spike – 882 cases – in the number of coronavirus (Covid-19) patients, taking the country’s total tally to 17,699.
According to the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), of the total number of new cases recorded in a single day, Sindh was on top with 662, pushing the province’s tally to 6,675 virus patients.
The NCOC said that 23 patients lost their lives due to the virus on Friday, taking the total death toll to 408 in the country.
Punjab, which was ahead of all other provinces regarding the highest number of virus cases, according to the NCOC, is now second to Sindh with 6,340 cases. “The province registered 120 cases on Friday.”
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 15 deaths were reported from the virus, taking the total toll of the province to 161. Of the total deaths, 10 were in Peshawar, two Nowshera and one each in Swat, Battagram and Kohat. “Thirty-six patients have recovered from the respiratory disease.”
Sindh, Centre lock horns over lockdown
Leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) once again came face-to-face in the political battle over the coronavirus-induced lockdown in the country on Friday.
The conflict over measures to contain the pandemic intensified on Friday after PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari lambasted the PTI-led federal government for allegedly sabotaging Sindh’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak and non-provision of protective gear to medical workers in the province.
In response to Bilawal’s hard-hitting press conference, several federal ministers fired a broadside at the PPP chairperson with newly appointed Information Minister Shibli Faraz calling him “a representative of the elite”, who was “ignorant of the reality”.
The difference of opinion between the Centre and the Sindh government over the lockdown was not something new as they had been out of steps since the restrictions were first imposed in March, following the Covid-19 outbreak.
PM Imran extends lockdown for two weeks
In April, despite the verbal assurances that the federal and provincial governments were on the same page, tensions flared when the PTI ministers openly criticised Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah for his strict measures to combat Covid-19.
In Friday’s press conference, Bilawal criticised the federal government for the plight of doctors and healthcare workers. He also asked the federal government to stop criticism of Sindh “if it does not want to praise Sindh” for its efforts to suppress the virus.
Senator Faraz, while responding to Bilawal’s press conference, accused the PPP chairperson of trying to “impose the incompetence of the Sindh government on the federation” and warned that the nation would not forgive anyone doing politics over the virus pandemic issue.
Bilawal’s “ignorance can only be regretted”, Faraz said in response to a question at a media briefing in the federal capital. “Those sleeping during the day are ignorant of the reality,” he said, asking the PPP chief to “focus on work as it was time to serve the nation”.
Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry was also critical of the PPP leadership. “The problem of the opposition is that they have no alternative proposals,” Chaudhry said in comments on Bilawal’s press conference. “Tell me, what do you want from the federation.”
Coronavirus pandemic reaches new high in Sindh
Chaudhry said that criticism of the federation had not saved politics of any party in the past and the rhetoric would not work in the future also. However, he conceded that lockdown was a provincial matter and that the Sindh government should take decisions.
Communications Minister Murad Saeed also slammed the PPP government and its chairperson, saying that the “press conference of Zardari’s son is a charge-sheet against [his own party] the PPP and the [party’s] Sindh government”.
“Zardari’s son has nothing but political rhetoric and failed attempts to blame his failures on the federation,” Saeed said, adding that despite the full cooperation of the federation, Bilawal had nothing substantial to say during the press conference.
Saeed said that the Sindh government had failed to handle the pandemic spread and the people of Sindh were left at the mercy of coronavirus. “All the relief work – from the distribution of money to the delivery of medical supplies was being done by the federal government,” he added. “Zardari’s party has betrayed the people of Sindh in these testing times”.
No nationwide lockdown
Bilawal’s press conference came a day after the provincial government announced extension in the lockdown period. “The health and lives of the people are the first and foremost priority of the Sindh government, therefore, it is not ending the ongoing lockdown, Sindh Information Minister Syed Nasir Shah said on Thursday.
The provincial minister also said that the provincial government had been requesting the Centre from the very beginning for the formulation of a joint strategy so that the entire country could stand united against Covid-19 threat.
However, Faraz told the press conference on Friday that the country could not afford a complete lockdown because the lower-income groups could not cope with such restrictions, adding that the Sindh government had realised that as well.
“We are a country drowned in debt and must keep our economic activities running,” he said. “Some people were of the view that a complete lockdown should be imposed, but the provinces are now realising that such strict restrictions cannot be enforced,” he added.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has been saying from day one that it’s [complete lockdown] not possible,” Shibli said, stressing the need for striking a balance between taking precautionary measures against the disease and ensuring that the underprivileged sections of society did not starve.
He noted that the policy to close all businesses and confine people to their homes had even failed in the US. “We must strictly follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to prevent the disease from spreading. We have allowed some industries to resume their operations following these SOPs.”
To a question about the differences between the Centre and Sindh government over the strategy to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, Shibli said the 18th Amendment had empowered the provinces to make their own decisions and the federal government could only issue guidelines.
“The Centre will take along all the federating units in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic,” he maintained. “It’s in the country’s interest to work together instead of developing differences over individual or provincial basis.”
Shibli said the prime minister’s foremost concern was the impact of the lockdown on labourers and daily-wage earners. “The government has allowed the construction sector to resume its activities and given incentives to industries to ensure that labourers and daily-wage earners did not suffer from unemployment.”
The minister said the government had introduced a programme to financially assist labourers and daily-wage earners who borne the brunt of the complete lockdown in the country. He added that Rs12,000 was being provided to each deserving family under the Ehsaas programme.
Speaking about the premier’s decision to appoint him as the information minister and Lt Gen (retd) Asim Saleem Bawja as the special assistant on information, Shibli said PM Imran wanted to change his team and he had the right to make changes he deemed necessary.
“The special assistant [Asim Saleem Bajwa] has a great deal of experience with the media and together we will take the country forward,” he added. “Imran Khan is the only reason I’m in politics. If he would not have entered politics, I wouldn’t have either.”