–PM Imran rules out countrywide lockdown as official number of patients touches 237
–Says ‘people will die of hunger’ if country is locked down, warns profiteers and hoarders of stern action
–Sindh govt imposes partial lockdown from Wednesday for 15 days in a bid to contain deadly virus
–KP govt considering closing govt offices, sending all govt employees aged 50 and above on 15-day paid leave
LAHORE: “Aap ne ghabrana nahi hai [You don’t need to panic],” Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday, as he sought to calm the panicked Pakistani populace amid a rapid surge in the positive cases of the deadly coronavirus, that touched 237 by Wednesday midnight, across the country.
The PM’s address came a few hours after the Sindh government announced a partial lockdown in the province for 15 days starting Wednesday.
“It is our belief that life and death are in the hands of Allah,” Imran said in a pre-recorded address to the nation. He added that the federal government had decided not to impose a lockdown in the country even though the virus outbreak was expected to spread. It may be noted here that the coronavirus pandemic has claimed over 7,000 lives in addition to affecting nearly 200,000 people in over 170 countries.
“Get it through your heads, the virus will spread,” the prime minister said, but hastened to add that there was no need to panic as “97 per cent of the affectees had recovered from the deadly virus”. He said that the virus was dangerous for old people since it attacked their already-weakened immune system.
Imran spoke about the coronavirus situation around the world, saying that the US, Italy and England have reacted differently to the virus. However, he said that Pakistan cannot afford the same response as European countries.
“Our economic situation is very fragile,” he said. “If we close down the country, what will happen to the poor? People will die of hunger here,” he added.
PM Imran said that his government took the difficult decision to prohibit public gatherings and ban events where the public showed up in huge numbers such as the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2020.
He said that an economic committee will determine how the government can cope with the coronavirus situation. The prime minister said that he feared food prices will once again rise as profiteers and hoarders will once again resume illicit activities.
“I want to warn these people [profiteers, hoarders] not to make money from the people’s misery,” he said. “The state will take stern action against you,” he added.
He said that the virus was spreading in countries and the government was studying responses of other governments and how they were acting to eliminate the pandemic. He also paid tribute to the Balochistan government and the Pakistan Army for ensuring that pilgrims arriving from Taftan were quarantined despite the hardships being faced in the provision of logistics to the remote area.
The prime minister urged people to join hands with the government in its ‘war’ against the novel infection and act responsibly. He asked the people to avoid large gatherings and refrain from shaking hands with each other. He urged the nation not to panic and said that every person should not get themselves tested based on only mild flu symptoms. He said that testing kits should be used for only people who were really suffering from the novel virus.
Imran praised the efforts of doctors and nurses and said that the government will help them in their ‘jihad’ against the coronavirus. PM Imran said that he understood the plight of overseas Pakistanis at this hour, especially the Pakistani students who were stranded in Wuhan.
Addressing the country’s religious scholars, Imran said that it was their responsibility to play a positive role in the crisis.
Expressing satisfaction at the availability of face masks, he said in severe cases, they could require ventilators and other equipment, and assured that arrangements in that regard were being made.
The prime minister concluded by saying that the core medical committee was continuously advising the government after reviewing the world scenario and the latest experiences.
237 CASES IN PAKISTAN:
Meanwhile, in light of the new directives issued by the Sindh government, shopping malls and restaurants will remain closed in the province, however, grocery stores, fish markets and pharmacies will remain open. Police contingents will be deployed at all supermarkets of Karachi.
The provincial government has also decided to shut down the inter-city bus service and government offices from Thursday. Sea View and other public recreational spots will also be closed.
“Only takeaways & deliveries will be allowed. Section 144 also to be imposed at beach and parks. It is clarified that shopping stores & chemists will remain open. Citizens are once again urged to cooperate,” he added. “We want to restrict people to their houses,” the Sindh government spokesperson said, as the province remains the worst-affected by the virus with the tally of affected persons reaching 172 on Tuesday.
Adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister on Law Senator Murtaza Wahab said that the provincial government has established a relief fund “with seed money of Rs3 billion”. The fund will see contributions by the chief minister, provincial ministers, advisers, special assistants and all Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lawmakers equivalent to one month’s salary.
Meanwhile, the Balochistan government confirmed six new cases in Quetta, taking the total number of coronavirus cases in Balochistan to 16. According to the spokesperson for the Balochistan government Liaquat Ali Shahwani, the affected individuals are under treatment at the Sheikh Zayed Hospital.
26 CASES IN PUNJAB:
In Punjab, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar said that the number of cases in Punjab has risen to 26. The previous tally for the province was eight.
“We are testing all the suspected patients and 736 zaireen quarantined in DG Khan. 1,276 zaireen coming from Taftan will also be quarantined,” he added. Earlier in the day, Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid confirmed six new cases in the province.
Addressing a press conference alongside Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, Dr Yasmin announced that the cases were reported from Dera Ghazi Khan where some 750 suspects – all pilgrims who had just returned from Iran through Taftan border – were quarantined a day earlier.
“Our job right now is to mitigate [the spread]. This is why a medical emergency was declared in the province a few days ago,” she said, adding, “Do not think of this as a holiday. We want to have the minimum number of people coming out of their homes [during this period].”
When inquired, the health minister maintained Punjab would bear the biggest burden when it comes to coronavirus cases in the country. “Right now we have around 750 zaireen (pilgrims) that are being tested for the virus. The next batch of pilgrims is approximately 1,200 people, therefore, our number of patients will be greater [than Sindh].”
Dr Yasmin said that the Punjab government will keep the public informed about the situation on a daily basis.
KP TO QUARANTINE PILGRIMS:
Also, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government on Wednesday decided to quarantine pilgrims arriving in Dera Ismail Khan through the Taftan border crossing with Iran.
According to Ajmal Wazir, Adviser to Chief Minister Mahmood Khan on Information, some 250 people arriving into DI Khan from the Taftan Border will be quarantined at Gomal Medical College.
Speaking at a news conference in Peshawar, Wazir announced that groceries and other amenities have already been made available at the quarantine facility on special directives of the chief minister.
The development comes amid reports of ineffective quarantine procedures many of those are reported to be among those who had been held at a quarantine camp at the Taftan crossing.
Wazir also urged citizens to not panic after the province reported 15 cases of coronavirus in a single go a day earlier.
He also recalled that KP does not have any secondary transmission case yet, all the people who tested positive are people who returned from across the border.
As part of our safety measures, he said, we are considering closing government offices. All government employees aged 50 and above will be given a 15-day paid leave and prisoners’ sentences will be reduced by two months.
“Police training in all training centers across the province have been postponed and police officers have been asked to come back to duty […] schools have also been shut,” he added.
Wazir said that the KP government had started interacting with the clerics, it would brief them and bring them on board. He added that he would soon address a joint press conference with these religious leaders and bring forward a plan to tackle the disease.