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PM Imran Khan calls for holistic approach to fight corona

Top Story

March 26, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday, while once again opposing complete lockdown in the country, called for national response to fight the pandemic of COVID-19, saying the federal government could not meet the challenge alone.

Addressing the parliamentary party leaders’ video conference, the prime minister called upon the opposition parties to give their input and suggestion to meet the challenge. 

“The government will seek input from the opposition and will remain in touch with you addressing the crisis and reassessing the situation,” the prime minister said.

He said it was the nation and not the government, which could fight such a situation. “We have no hard and fast solution but we are continuously assessing the situation,” he said. He said that there would be a fallout of lockdown being observed by the provinces as it was affecting daily wagers and workers due to closure of construction activity while 25 percent of population was living below poverty line “There is no precedence of such lockdown in the world,” he said questioning whether there is structure to provide food to people like daily wagers, formal and informal labourersand those living in slum areas.

The prime minister observed that he feels that country should not be taken to the situation where the transport comes to a stop because there would problems of supply chain in coming days. “The Gilgit-Baltistan area is facing fuel shortage while wheat harvesting is also about to start when diesel and transport will be required,” he said.

The conference, however, marred by walkout by the Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari against Prime Minister Imran Khan for leaving the discussion after delivering a brief speech.

“Is this level of seriousness? The prime minister did not consider it important to participate in the full session,” Shahbaz Sharif while leaving the conference said. He said country is facing the worst calamity in history and the prime minister had left saying they too would not participate in the conference. “The prime minister should have realised that it was supposed to be a consultative session,” he said.

He said they did not have political designs in coming here. “We wanted to sit down to debate on how we can save the country together,” he said. The members of the PPP, PML-N and other opposition parties, however, continued their participation in the session.

The prime minister went on to say that there would be a meeting of National Coordination Committee (NCC) on Thursday (today) to review the situation arising after the lockdown. “I will suggest the meeting to be attended by representatives from provinces and Azad Kashmir that extreme lockdown should be lifted,” he said.

He pointed out there are multiple levels of lockdown and a curfew is the last stage adding that the poor section of the society which would bear the brunt of such measures was focus of his concerns.

He said that the government banned every activity like social gatherings, cricket matches, Pakistan Day parade but did not move towards the stage where the poor segment and common man could be affected.

He stressed upon reviewing the extreme steps taken by the provinces to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which would impact the economy badly. Imran also called for lifting of ban on transport by the province, saying it would badly affect the supply of essential items in the country.

He pointed out that Gilgit-Baltistan area is facing fuel shortage and on Tuesday, supply from the port was stopped due to the lockdown in Karachi and the government had to take necessary steps in this regard. "There was no precedence in the world of such a lockdown," he said.

"Sindh was the first province which announced it is imposing a lockdown and then under pressure from the media, all the other provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu Kashmir followed the same," the prime minister said.

Talking about the Taftan controversy, the prime minister said the Pakistan Army and Balochistan government made great efforts in taking care of pilgrims coming from Iran.

However, he mentioned that Iran could not deal with the situation and then brought nationals to the border, leaving Pakistan government with no option but to allow them back into the country. “Iran did not have the capacity like that of China so we had to accept the challenge,” he said.

He said that decision not to evacuate students from Wuhan proved right. “We faced criticism from everyone but you see, there is no case of coronavirus from China,” he said.

He said the decisions should not be taken observing that fight against coronavirus must be won and it could be done together. He noted that there were only 153 home grown cases of virus in the country and most of the cases relates to pilgrims coming from Iran.

The meeting was attended by federal ministers Asad Umar, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pervaiz Khattak, Dr Fehmida Mirza, Minister of State Ali Muhammad Khan, Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwala, Leader of the House in Senate Shibli Faraz, Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, MNAs Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Nawabzada Shahzain Bughti, Ms Shahida Akthar Ali, Senators Mushahidullah Khan, Anwarul Haq Kakar, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hyderi, Usman Khan Kakar, Aurangzeb Khan, Ms Sitara Ayaz, and NDMA chairman.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sahrif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, MNA Khawaja Muhammad Asif and Senator Sherry Rehman joined the meeting through video link.

There was a general consensus that the fight against coronavirus could be won through collective efforts. They were of the view that doctors and paramedics were vulnerable as they were on the forefront, therefore, they might be equipped properly.

The participants also suggested taking care of the vulnerable and marginalised segments of the society through schemes of the government for social protection. Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi while addressing the concluding session of the meeting said that government was fulfilling its obligations in coordination with provincial governments, however, he said that positive criticism will help the government to better deal with the situation. He said that Chinese leadership acknowledges the help Pakistan had extended during the whole crisis, thus they have wholeheartedly extended help to the government of Pakistan in terms of equipment, medicines and other supplies required to fight this pandemic.

Concluding the meeting, NA Speaker Asad Qaiser thanked all the parliamentary leaders for their valuable input. The Speaker informed the participants that the names from the treasury and the opposition for the parliamentary committee on corona had been received and the committee will be notified in due course of time.

He further said that he will constitute a sub-committee to formulate Terms of Reference (ToRs) of the parliamentary committee so that the committee may focus constructively on the issue.

He said that coronavirus pandemic had posed serious threats to the health of people across the globe besides inflicting serious dent to the world economies and Pakistan was not an exception.

He said that purpose of this parliamentary discourse was to collectively brainstorm and forge policies guidelines for the government to tackle that pandemic and its aftermath. Senator Mushahidullah Khan of PML-N said that priorities of the government were not correct saying that the Centre had already taken the decision about lockdown or curfew.

He said that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari offered his cooperation to the federal government whereas the government itself had taken the initiative. “You should have created a national consensus by approaching Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari but you failed,” he said adding it is task of the leader to create national consensus and not to deliver speeches only.

He said that the federal government not only failed in cooperating with the political parties but what it did with media was seen by the whole nation.

Speaking on the occasion, Special Assistant on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza said there are one thousand confirmed cases of coronavirus so far in the country. He said 78 percent cases of COVID-19 have come from Iran and only five percent of cases were locally transmitted.

NDMA Chairman Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal said the government has released Rs26 billion for acquiring necessary equipment and other things to fight COVID-19. He said 500 ventilators, injections, masks, and other things will be acquired to meet the needs in wake of the pandemic. He said about half a million masks, including 50,000 N-95 masks have reached Karachi.