KARACHI/ LAHORE: The joint declaration, issued by a multiparty conference on Tuesday, called upon Imran Khan to play his role as the prime minister of Pakistan, and only of Islamabad Capital Territory, to curb the menace of coronavirus through immediate complete lockdown of the country, instead of wasting further time.
The conference was co-hosted by Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and opposition leader in the National Assembly, Shahbaz Sharif, through video-link.
The participants emphasised that there should be a national approach, with no province left out of the consultative loop and suggested that Prime Minister Imran Khan should call a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) on daily basis, so that all federating units are taken on board and no one is left out.
The participating parties endorsed PML-N’s national corona strategy reconnections, presented by Shahbaz Sharif. All parties urged to restore the local governments in Punjab, which are closer to communities and can play an effective role in any community related initiative.
Various political leaders appreciated the stance of Shahbaz and Bilawal about formulation of a national response to the coronavirus pandemic, challenging the whole world, including Pakistan.
PPP Chairman Bilawal and PML-N President Shahbaz welcomed all political leaders to the video-link conference. After Mian Shahbaz’s remarks, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was asked to brief the meeting participants about the steps needed for fighting the dreaded disease.
Those who participated in the moot included Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi (Pakistan Muslim League-Q), Sirajul Haq (Jamaat-i-Islami), Hasil Bizenjo (National Party), Akhtar Mengal (BNP), Aftab Sherpao (Qaumi Watan Party), Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and Faisal Sabzwari (Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan), Mian Iftikhar (Awami National Party), Abdul Ghafoor Haidery (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl), Senator Usman Khan Kakar (Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party).
Murad Ali Shah, Raja Parvez Ashraf, Sherry Rehman, Farhatullah Babar from the PPP and Ayaz Sadiq, Marriyum Aurangzeb from the PML-N were also present.
As the first step, the APC urged swift action against the global pandemic. All participants agreed that by now the government should have called such a conference of all political parties and set in motion a comprehensive National Action Plan with all stakeholders on board. It is a matter of grave national concern, and all political leaders pledged to get united against what needed to be a war effort.
Messaging for public safety is crucial in changing social attitudes, and all resources including private TV channels as well as ulema must be nationally engaged by the federal leadership to use their platforms for amplification of life-saving messages.
The political leaders called for a National Task Force as well, which should include all political parties’ representatives. Immediate actions must include health sector actions, economic management and public messaging that must use all platforms for protecting the public as well as the medical workers on the frontlines of the fight. Brave doctors like Dr Usama must be appreciated with the highest civil awards, and the entire medical community be given protective gear before anything else.
The opposition parties condemned the leadership deficit on the part of the federal government, and demanded that crisis management committees be formed at all levels, from the provinces to the local bodies tiers, with all parties representation be formed immediately by the government in order to manage the ravages of the unprecedented risk to Pakistan and all humanity. Relief efforts must use local bodies as well for outreach, while philanthropic and volunteer efforts should be streamlined.
The conference was united in appreciating the Sindh government’s efforts and chief minister’s proactive leadership. Sindh’s charter of demands, which were endorsed by all leaders include the federal government’s urgent operationalization of on an effective national lockdown, because without full coverage and coordination across the country, one province cannot continue to impose effective containment measures on its own. This means all public transport, including passenger trains must be stopped forthwith. Private transport may be allowed in case of immediate need. However, in. case the federal government cannot impose this, it must go for a full lockdown. The lockdown should be coupled with expanding capacity for testing, beds, ventilators, ICU facilities, PPE, and isolation centres to be effective.
The poorest of the poor must be immediately protected. The following measures must be taken: BISP data and other poverty alleviation programs to identify the most vulnerable must be used. Each household must be given Rs15,000. Sindh has identified 40% of such households who would need such help. For fast-tracking such delivery, the provinces must be allowed to negotiate with foreign governments and international donor agencies directly.
Testing capacity as well as general health service capacity be immediately enhanced to identify affected patients. The government-run isolation centres are urgently needed for treating patients, and large scale testing capacity kits and Personal protective equipment (PPE) for health professionals. Electricity bills up to Rs5,000 and gas bills up to Rs2,000 should be paid by the state, as Sindh has pledged.
To promote economic activity, interest rate need to be slashed, and oil price reductions be passed to Sindh as well.
While urging immediate lockdown to save lives, the committee advised immediate steps to give daily-wagers, small businesses and all vulnerable groups real relief, not just token announcements made too little, too late. This, they agreed, will only be made possible by making timely, coordinated policy in consultation with all provinces.
As part of the wage and ration lifeline provision to vulnerable sections of Pakistan, the committee repeatedly emphasised that the government must do more. Relief on global oil prices must be passed on to the poor, while industries that pay daily wage earners, who cannot come to work, must continue to pay salaries as Sindh has legally mandated, while giving advances and other benefits in times of such distress. The BISP income support supply lines must be scaled up, while subsidies and food ration distribution must be made a priority. Industries and big employers that need a stimulus package must be given that, like the world over.
The scale of the medical emergency is huge, and can scale up exponentially in weeks, the committee observed, and called for immediate actions to be taken to reduce dangerous gaps in testing kits, hospital beds, quarantine capacity, protective gear for health workers and ventilators. Whenever a vaccine is made available, it must be provided directly to provinces, while border quarantine facilities must be real quarantines, with hygienic testing facilities at border entry points on all sides. The Taftan quarantine experience was highly contaminating, and instead of quarantining or containing the virus, proved to be the point of real contagion for many, because they were not tested at all, and must be avoided at all costs.
All agreed that lockdowns and social distancing is critical to flattening the curve of the pandemic, but that it is not enough.
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