ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's situation was relatively "better" than the other countries hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Thursday.
PM Imran said the real number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan is less than the projected one as of April 30. "We imposed a lockdown when we had 26 cases and the public also cooperated with us.
"When you compare Pakistan to other countries, then our situation is much better. We were assuming that our hospitals would be full by now but then our situation is much better," he said.
The premier said he spoke to Hassan Rouhani and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Iranian and Egyptian presidents, respectively.
"Iran has now decided to close large gatherings such as weddings and schools and open up all businesses," the PM said. "They also fear that their losses due to unemployment are bigger than that from the coronavirus."
The Cairo leadership, he said, "decided on the first day to lock down large gatherings but they tried to make sure the construction sector remained working".
"Egypt's and our tally is the same and their economic condition is similar to ours. Our lockdown was much stricter than them but the deaths remained the same.
"We decided to share both our experiences in the future," PM Imran added, noting that his team of ministers knew that daily wagers, labourers, waiters, and taxi drivers would be the "worst-affected" of all.
"I would like to congratulate Dr Sania [Nishtar] for the Ehsaas [Emergency Cash] programme. It is a proud moment for us."
The prime minister explained that the money disbursed to deserving people was based on relevant data and not political affiliations. Sindh, he noted, received the highest number of payments under the Ehsaas programme.
"I was very happy to see that the lowest strata of society could get the money. We have so far distributed Rs81 billion," he said.
"The second programme we are starting... I had decided to keep the money [that was] gathered from the relief fund for the unemployed," he added, noting that an SMS campaign would be launched soon and that the new project to support people out of jobs would require proof of unemployment — a plan the government was working on.
"For every rupee donated, the government will match it with Rs4 in the fund," the premier said, adding that the 'Corona Relief Tigers Force' had been informed to set up a desk in each union council to check who has been unemployed.
"There are many white-collar workers who have been unemployed and who will not come forward," he said. "We will use the Imams of mosques to know who the unemployed people are.
"We will provide [assistance to] them under the fund," he stated, before expressing his gratitude to Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar for launching a programme for the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
With regard to the overseas Pakistanis stranded abroad due to international flights disrupted over coronavirus pandemic, PM Imran said he understood that they wished to return home.
"I have instructed Moeed [Yusuf] to give all the details and tell the difficulties in bringing them back," he said, referring to his special assistant on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning.
"Overseas Pakistanis are our biggest asset," he noted. "It is our responsibility to take care of them and I have instructed our embassies to take care of them."
The PM, however, added that he was aware of the pressure on the embassies.
PM Imran said his focal person on coronavirus, Dr Faisal Sultan, was tasked to coordinate with the doctors and provinces, explaining that "our policy is made on the analysis they share" and the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) took that into account before moving ahead.
He said he recently learnt that different Pakistani industries had started making ventilators at a very cheap price. "We are thinking of exporting those items," he said.
Federal Minister for Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said the government will make a decision on the lockdown strategy after May 9 next week. Umar said he had urged the premier to call an NCOC meeting next week to discuss the issue further.
He said that when coronavirus cases were first reported in the country, the government was concerned that the situation will get out of hand.
"The cases and death toll both started to increase but the situation did not get out of hand," he said. "Since the past three days, more than 20 deaths have been reported on a daily basis. There is a concern that the death rate will rise further [in the coming days]," he said.
Umar said that the poor and the destitute were bearing the brunt of the coronavirus impact. He called on people to be responsible and protect themselves and in turn, others from the coronavirus.
Dr Sultan, the PM's focal person on coronavirus, said the Pakistani authorities were keeping an eye on the coronavirus situation as it was evolving in Pakistan and around the world.
"We are analysing it [data] and taking decisions accordingly. We have enough data for Pakistan to ensure that accurate decisions are being taken," he added.
He underscored that while the government has come to the conclusion that the pandemic is not spreading as fast in Pakistan compared to Europe, it did not mean that people let go of precautionary measures.
"If we adopt these [precautionary measures] we will be able to take better care of ourselves and the people around us which will enable the government to relax these restrictions," he said.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said the rate of COVID-19 infection among the country's health professionals was very low in Pakistan as opposed to other countries
"Right now, the distribution of the personal protective equipment (PPE) has concluded. The NDMA [National Disaster Management Authority] made procurement from abroad," he noted, adding that apart from the N-95 masks, all other types of protective gear were being produced locally.
Dr Mirza explained that that the NDMA had formed a new mechanism, under which hospitals were being given the PPEs directly. However, "the issue now is that the PPEs are being used irrationally", he observed.
"This is why we are launching a programme to educate our health professionals," the special assistant added, noting that more than 1,700 volunteers of the 'Corona Relief Tigers Force' worked in the medical field.
"We have given them another questionnaire so we can use them in the TTQ in the union councils," Dr Mirza said, referring to the national strategy for test, trace, and quarantine (TTQ).
Karachi’s Municipal Commissioner Afzal Zaidi directs to remove unnecessary advertisements from the main highway
PM Shahbaz will also meet a delegation from the ruling coalition’s partner MQM-P during his day-long visit to the...
Sindh Rangers say social media activist was arrested based on an intelligence report regarding his "links with a...
“Tariq Bashir Cheema has divided our family while Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has been made hostage by his sons,”...
Hina Rabbani Khar meets British PM Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting...
Pakistani government has not confirmed reports of Sajid Mir's arrest