Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged political leaders across the country to reassess the coronavirus lockdown and think of the poor.
He addressed leaders such as PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif and Khawaja Asif, PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sherry Rehman and the federal cabinet via video link on Wednesday where he spoke about the coronavirus lockdown. He said he wasn’t actually in favour of the lockdown, citing the economic implications.
Countries across the world are weighing their economies versus coronavirus lockdowns and we should do the same, said the premier.
He outlined some of the steps the government had taken since the first meeting on the coronavirus on January 15, such as making the “difficult decision to keep the Pakistani students in Wuhan in China”. Despite appeals we kept them there and in hindsight, it was the right decision, he said.
There have been no coronavirus cases reported in Pakistan from China he said, adding that cases in Iran were reported because Iran didn’t have the capacity to deal with the virus and couldn’t even quarantine the pilgrims. He discussed Pakistan’s own infrastructure and capacity to deal with the pilgrims in Taftan and admitted that there was nothing.
“It’s 700km fro Quetta,” he exclaimed, adding that they tried to provide whatever facilities they could. As of Tuesday, Pakistan has screened 900,000 people at airports and 900 people have tested positive, he said. As of Wednesday, that number has crossed 1,000.
PM Khan said only 153 of Pakistan’s then 900 cases were local transmissions. That’s something to be glad about, he said.
He said during the first National Security Council and later National Coordination Committee Meetings, when Pakistan had reported just 21 cases, they decided to impose a lockdown in the country.
A lockdown is different in each country, he said. Their initial idea of a lockdown was closing down universities and colleges and cancelling the Pakistan Day parade and cricket matches–anywhere where big crowds would gather.
Sindh said we should go for a stricter approach, he said, adding that through the 18th Amendment they had the right to do that. However, he said that the Centre didn’t agree with Sindh’s measures. But pressure from the media led to Balochistan, Punjab and KP implementing incremental lockdowns, said the premier.
However, he took issue the closure of transport during these lockdowns. That creates big problems on the supply side, he said, adding that Gilgit Baltistan is already facing an oil shortage because of transport issues. What happens when the wheat cutting season is upon us, he asked.
The premier also worried about construction workers, saying unemployment would be difficult to handle for them.
He expressed his fear how the population, 50% of which is below the poverty line, will handle such a lockdown. When the port closed, we couldn’t import daal, so we had to have it opened, he said.
We need to assess this, you leaders need to sit and reassess the lockdown, he urged. “All steps have repercussions. There is no precedence yet in the world for this situation,” he added. PM Khan urged them not to make decisions in moments of fear, adding that they rarely end up playing out the way you want them to.
During Thursday’s NCC meeting, we can all discuss our views and examine the impact of the lockdown. What will be the effect of the transport ban in two weeks, he asked.
He also asked how if Pakistan imposes a curfew, which is the last stage of a lockdown, people will get food. During a regular curfew, there is a time for people to go out for food, in a coronavirus curfew having people line up together for food defeats the purpose, he said.
“We need to supply food to homes but do we have the infrastructure for that?” He said he would announce a volunteer programme soon so that the government is ready.
There would be economic repercussions and our exports and industry would be affected, he said. PM Khan suggested that the construction industry be allowed to continue on. We’ve given people incentives but we need to give everyone food and money. “If we need to have a curfew we should at least be ready,” he said.
“A nation can fight coronavirus, not a government,” said PM Khan, giving the example of America, which has been plagued by endless debates and each state is doing something different. “It is the same here. There is no hard and fast solution in Pakistan, we must keep reassessing.”
He asked the leaders for their input, and said he hoped they could work together to win the “war” against coronavirus.
We need to improvise and each day we must monitor the steps we take and the impact, difficulties and solutions for them, he said. “When we win the coronvirus war, it will be with all Pakistanis, all provinces, all political parties and all segments of society.”
In a final note, he said they must think of the poor, especially those who live eight to a room in kachi abadies. Those living in DHA will get their food and have the money, the others, how will they survive, he asked.