ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday defended the government’s decision to lift the Covid-19-induced lockdown saying that the novel coronavirus was here to stay and the nation would have to learn to live with it. He also stressed the need for allowing public transport vehicles to operate again to facilitate the poor, adding that the federal government was trying to reach a consensus with the provinces on the matter.
In a televised news conference with members of his economic and healthcare teams, the premier urged the medical community, which has been severely critical of the government’s decision to ease restrictions and allow businesses to reopen amid the rising number of Covid-19 infections, to take into consideration that the country could not afford an indefinite lockdown.
“The lockdown has affected 150 million people in the country. We can impose a lockdown to contain the virus but will that stop it?” he said.
The prime minister added that if someone could say with certainty that a lockdown for three months would defeat the virus, the government would have gone ahead with the move.
“But scientists say that there will be no vaccine [for the virus] this year. We will have to learn to live with it.”
The prime minister assured doctors and paramedics that the government realised the pressure they were facing amid the pandemic, especially the how the safety of their families and children was at risk.
“We are aware that the medical community is alarmed over the move to ease restrictions but it is important it understands how a country must tackle a problem of this magnitude, the decisions that need to be made and their repercussions on the society,” he added.
PM Imran also asked the medical community to look at the cases of China, South Korea and other countries where new clusters of the virus had emerged.
Govt to gradually ease lockdown: PM Imran
He also requested them to compare Pakistan's economy with that of developed countries. “They [developed countries] have announced economic stimulus packages worth hundreds of billions of dollars, but we have only managed to allocate $8 billion for this purpose.”
Citing statistics of labour force survey carried out in 2017-18, the premier said there were 25 million people daily-wage earners in the country.
“These people were forced to stay at home during the lockdown with no means to earn a livelihood,” he noted.
The prime minister further said the government was prepared to deal with a spike in coronavirus cases and working on building the country’s healthcare capacity.
“Although the cases are still less than the projected figure of 52,000, the numbers are likely to continue increasing,” he added.
“It is estimated that four in every hundred people infected by the virus will need to be admitted to hospital. This will increase the pressure on hospitals and the government is preparing to deal with the situation.”
The premier said cash handouts to people who had lost their jobs because of the lockdown would start from Monday.
The money for the cash handouts would be provided from the PM’s Corona Relief Fund.
PM Imran maintained that despite facing a financial crunch, the government had facilitated the poor and carried out measures which other countries could not manage to take.
He mentioned the Ehsaas emergency cash programme under which Rs12,000 had been distributed to deserving families "We distributed Rs12,000 through Ehsaas but how long can we continue doing this? How long will the sum of Rs12,000 fulfil their needs?”
The prime minister appealed to the nation to follow the guidelines issued to prevent the spread of the virus and take responsibility.
He also urged citizens to not celebrate the upcoming Eidul Fitr as it was done under normal circumstances.
"This Eid is different and the spread of the coronavirus can only be controlled through taking precautionary measures.”
The premier said it was necessary to reopen public transport sector to facilitate the poor. He added that some provinces had reservations over allowing public transport vehicles to operate again and the federal government was trying to reach a consensus with them on the issue. “When we halt public transport, we are making life difficult for the poor. So I request everyone to reopen public transport. The US and Europe have not stopped it. Why have we done it?”
Speaking on the occasion, Federal Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said the ministry had made it mandatory for people to wear masks in crowded places.
He also praised the media for its role in creating awareness about the disease and precautionary measures.
The minister said the current testing capacity that had been increased by up to 27 times since March was still not satisfactory and the government would increase it further.
He added that over 500 lanes and neighbourhoods, where a surge in cases was seen using data technology, had been sealed.
Minister of State for Health Dr Zafar Mirza, who was also present at the briefing, said it was major accomplishment for Pakistan that it is among the three countries that would produce Remdesivir, the only drug that was considered effective for treating Covid-19.
He added that the drug would be produced by six companies globally not only for their own countries but also to export to 127 other countries.
He informed reporters that PM Imran had held a virtual conference with the US-based Gilead Sciences Inc to discuss the production of the medicine.
Speaking on the occasion Special Assistant to the PM on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar said around 8.5 million needy families have been provided cash handouts under the Ehsaas programme.
She added that Rs104 billion have been disbursed so far under the programme during a period of five weeks.
Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said the decision to promote matric and inter students this year was made with all provinces on board.
“The government is also trying to address the issues of university students whose studies have been affected by the pandemic,” he explained.
Special Assistant to the PM on National Security Dr Moeed Yusuf informed the media that the government was now able to bring back 11,000-12,000 Pakistanis stranded abroad every week. He said there would an increase in the testing of the passengers returning to the country but they would still have to spend one or two days in quarantine.
Federal Economic Affairs Minister Hammad Azhar, while speaking during the briefing, said the provinces would decide whether or not shopping malls should be allowed to reopen.
He added that most provinces wanted to allow malls to reopen because they had regulated entry system and exit and a controlled environment.