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March 27, 2020

Coronavirus crisis: NSC geared up govt

Top Story

March 27, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Federal government’s response to coronavirus pandemic was disappointing till March 14 when the National Security Committee (NSC) for the first time took critical decisions, including the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) on emergency basis for doctors and other medical staff.

According to sources, in the first a meeting of all agencies was held on February 27 on the issue of coronavirus. However, the prime minister did not participate in it, and delegated it to his Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza.

In the said meeting, all provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and ICT had demanded personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals and front line workers on urgent basis and requested the federal government to procure and provide this support.

Interestingly, in the 27th February meeting the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had expressed its inability to work on coronavirus crisis and cited preoccupation with locusts.

Following the 27th Feb meeting, the Ministry of Health on instructions of Dr Zafar Mirza firmed up the initial requirement of the PPE which included masks, medical and surgical masks, protective suits, gloves, thermal guns, thermal scanners, N95 masks, face shields, PCR testing equipment, test kits, hand sensitizers and disinfectants.

This was to fulfill the demand of all provinces and the GB, AJK and ICT. The ministry demanded from the PM and federal cabinet to allow immediate emergency procurement and allow initial allocation of funds to the tune of around Rs2.5 billion to provide urgently the provinces and regions the much needed PPE.

The federal cabinet, however, did not approve the proposal of Ministry of Health and firmly regretted to provide any material support to the provinces. The cabinet did not approve the required funds but only allowed limited procurement of PPE for ICT on urgent basis.

It was decided by the cabinet and approved by Prime Minister Imran Khan on 3rd March cabinet meeting. The cabinet decision was conveyed to all provinces to their utter disappointment.

On 6th March, during the video conference of Dr Zafar Mirza with all provincial governments, the provinces again raised the issue of urgent provision of the PPE which was desperately needed by doctors and emergency staff.

The provinces in the wake of federal cabinet decision were prepared to fund the procurement and even offered to pick the bill but wanted the federal government to make emergency procurement.

However, in the light of categorical decision of federal cabinet no agency could support provinces with much needed PPE. It was only in NSC meeting of 14th March that this decision was reversed and the NDMA was tasked to do emergency PPE procurement. Since then the NDMA is struggling to get the PPE.

The NSC meeting was held only after another meeting was convened on the subject of coronavirus in Rawalpindi two days prior to NSC meeting. These two meetings brought a change in priorities of NDMA too.

Sources said that the belated response from the federal government resulted into loss of precious time as now all 190 plus countries affected by the pandemic are buying PPE equipment world over.

Total demand placed before was Rs2.5 billion but immediate authorisation of Rs800 million requested which was turned down by the cabinet on 3rd March with direction that only needs of ITC be catered for.