ISLAMABAD: Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said on Tuesday that it is important for the government to strike a balance between preventing the spread of the coronavirus and keeping the economy running.
He made these remarks during a joint press conference with Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza in Islamabad.
“In a country like Pakistan, if we say we won’t have a lockdown at all, the disease will spread very fast and people will start losing jobs because they will be too sick […] there is no country in the world that would say it is not going to enforce a lockdown,” he reasoned.
“But if you enforce too strict a lockdown, people won’t get food and then there is no way they will not come out on the streets and our efforts to control the spread will fail,” he added.
The minister added that the government had formed a National Command Centre which would start functioning from today. Representatives from all the departments working to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and from all the provinces have been included in the command centre, he said.
“During the last meeting of the National Coordination Committee, we decided to increase cooperation on an operational level to ensure that voices of the provinces are heard at the federal level and federal decisions are easily communicated to the provinces,” he said. He added that the National Command Centre would be headed by Lt General Mehmood-uz-Zaman.
Umar said that the government has created a mechanism through the NCC and the National Command Centre to monitor utility stores throughout the country, adding that the government had allocated Rs50 billion to be given to utility stores.
He also said that the government would ensure that some remote areas in the country that previously imported goods from Iran received all the essential items.
‘Do not treat coronavirus patients like criminals’
Umar urged the nation to not treat coronavirus patients like “criminals”, adding that it would lead to people not reporting symptoms out of fear. He asked the authorities to ensure that it does not happen.
SAPM Mirza also said that reports of patients being criminalised were “extremely saddening”. He added that this would scare people and they would not come forward to report cases and thus harm the government’s efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
‘Have to ensure production of essential items continues’
Meanwhile, Hammad Azhar said that it was important to continue production of essential items and to keep such industries and their value-chain industries running.
“We have made lists of retailers, manufacturers and industries that produce these items. We have distributed these lists to provinces (which were compiled with their help) … that these industries need to continue production, and we need to ensure that raw material and the labour needed are given to them.”
Adding that there was no need for hoarding and panic-buying, he said that the government was working day and night to ensure that the demand for essential items could be met.
Azhar said the Cabinet had approved an Economic Stimulus and Relief Package which had already been approved by the Economic Coordination Committee a day earlier.
The package included:
- Rs200bn for daily-wagers
- Arrangements to delay interest payments on loans by six months for industries
- Increased quota of deserving people
- Rs50bn for utility stores
- Reduced petrol and diesel prices
Increased number of labs and testing kits
Umar also said that the number of labs that could carry out tests for coronavirus had increased from 13 to 30 and would increase to 32 in the coming days. He added that the current testing capacity was 280,000 which was expected to increase to 900,000 by April 15.
SAPM Mirza added that the government would also acquire a synthesiser in a few weeks which would enable the country to start producing testing kits on its own.
Saying it was the responsibility of the nation to defend its medical staff, Umar added the National Disaster Management Authority had distributed 16,700 personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals in every province of the country and it aimed to get PPE to doctors all across Pakistan by April 5.
Referring to the striking of balance between preventing the spread of the coronavirus and ensuring the continued production of essential items, Mirza said that the government would issue two sets of guidelines — for the people who would work in those industries and the people who would go out to buy essential items on its website on Wednesday.
Mirza added that there had been a big increase in the number of suspected patients in the last 24 hours and urged people to follow the preventive measures announced by the government to stop the spread of the disease.