Lockdown may render 18 million jobless in Pakistan, says Asad Umar
Planning and development minister fears between 20m and 70m people may fall below poverty line
ISLAMABAD: Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar on Sunday feared that around 18 million people could lose their jobs in the country because of the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“According to the calculations of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics [PIDE], between 20 million and 70 million people in the country might fall below the poverty line,” he said addressing a press briefing at the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Covid-19.
Umar, who heads the NCOC, noted that an average of 24 people were dying every because of Covid-19 in the country every day for the last six days and if the situation carried one in a similar manner, there would be 720 deaths each month.
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“Around 4,000 people die in road accidents in the country every month, but we still allow cars on roads, because their necessity is greater than the danger of those accidents,” he maintained.
"If we focus on bringing Covid-19 deaths to zero, we must realise that we cope with the measures it would be needed for doing that,” he added.
“We will not be able to pay the economic price required to undertake these measures.”
The minister noted that the virus had not been as fatal in Pakistan as was in the US and European countries.
Using Spain, Italy, France, the UK and India as examples, the minster drew up statistics for the first 46 days per one million people in each country.
He said 414 people out of a one million population died of Covid-19 in Spain during this period, 305 in Italy, 256 in France, 248 in the UK and 116 in US while there were only two virus fatalities in Pakistan and one in India.
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"In comparison with Pakistan, coronavirus has caused 58% more deaths in the US, 207% more in Spain and 124% more in the UK in the same period."
The minister claimed that experts quoted various reasons for this difference including difference in weather and the level of immunisaition through BCG vaccine [for tuberculosis] among others.
“Barring a few, there is no country in the world that has a healthcare system that can completely eliminate the disease. Hence, most of them took measures to manage or control the spread of a disease.
“The term ‘flatten the curve’, being used by foreign media, also signifies a similar pattern,” he observed.
He said the phrase meant the countries were trying to manage the spread of the virus, and not completely eliminating it, as this elimination came at a great cost.
“By cost, I don’t mean an aggregate price, but the price that is borne by a human being,” he clarified.
Umar said the lockdown was hitting the government hard as it had suffered a loss of Rs119 billion in April alone.
“We have to run the government and all its sectors including healthcare and education and also provide relief to the poor with the revenue generated from taxes.”
He feared that the lockdown might wipe out over one million small businesses.
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Citing the findings of a survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan, Umar said one out of every four Pakistanis had reduced their food intake in the wake of the financial problems caused by the pandemic.
To a query, Umar said the decision about the lockdown would be made before May 9, when it was scheduled to end, but the government could not reopen everything and lift all restrictions as it would overburden the healthcare system.
He said the matter would be discussed with the prime minister within two-three days and then decided at the meeting of the National Coordination Committee on Covid-19.
"There are two factors that need to be considered here – the quantity of beds in intensive care units (ICUs) and the number of ventilators," he explained.
The minister said there were about 5,000 beds in ICUs across the country -- 1,500 of them dedicated for Covid-19 patients. He noted that only 132 virus patients had been admitted to ICUs so far.
Similarly, he said the country had 1,400 ventilators and by June this year, the number would increase to 2,000.
Presently, he added, 35 virus patients were on ventilators.
He said presently the country had a capacity of conducting 20,000 tests per day but their number was low because of some technical reasons.
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The minister said the test, track and quarantine (TTQ) strategy and mechanism was in place and its model could be seen in Islamabad Capital Territory where two sectors were sealed and gradually the lockdown was reduced to two-three streets.
He said thousands had died in Europe countries but they were also relaxing their lockdowns to run their economies.
“The target is to prevent healthcare system from getting choked and also reduce hunger, poverty, unemployment because of the pandemic at the same time.”