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LAHORE/KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: With the confirmation of 25 new Covid-19 patients across the Punjab on Tuesday taking the tally to 676, the provincial government has decided to follow the Sindh lockdown strategy to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Under the strategy, taking effect on Wednesday (today), all grocery and general stores will remain open from 9am to 5pm; however, medical stores and pharmacies will be exempt from the new timing.
Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar said the government would take all possible measures for protecting the health and life of people. Last week, the provincial government had restricted the retail shops, groceries and general stores to operate between 8am to 5pm.
In a major development, the provincial government locked down the entire Raiwind city after 27 people tested positive. Most of the affected people have been shifted to the quarantine facilities in Kala Shah Kaku and Kasur. The police shutdown all general and medical stores, with no one being allowed to leave their home.
The number of deaths in the province now stands at nine. In a statement issued by the Home Department, the decision was taken during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday after multiple cases of the virus were reported in Raiwind.
The countrywide death toll now stands at 26, with the number of confirmed cases standing at 2,037. Out of 2,037 confirmed cases, 676 were reported from Sindh, 708 from Punjab, 158 from Balochistan, 253 from KP, 58 from Islamabad, 178 from GB and six from AJK.
Meanwhile, two more elderly persons died due to COVID-19 in Karachi on Tuesday while 49 more persons tested positive, health authorities said, adding that the number of patients had jumped to 676 in the province, of which 627 were still under treatment.
On the other hand, eight more persons recovered and were allowed to go home from the isolation centers, hospitals and quarantine centers, authorities said, adding that the number of people who had recovered from the disease stood at 49.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah Tuesday said the number corona cases had reached 676, including 293 of local transmission while the number of cases on March 30 was 566. “This shows an increase of 110 cases during the last 24 hours”.
This he said on Tuesday while reviewing the overall efforts of the government to contain coronavirus in the province. “The issue is local transmission and we have to contain it through strict measures,” he said.
The health department told the chief minister that in 45 hospitals with 505 beds had been provided with the required facilities of isolation and treatment of COVID-19 patients. At present, 315 patients are under treatment, of them 310 are stable and five are in in critical condition. Some 263 are in quarantine at their homes and 42 have recovered while seven patients died.
The Sindh health department has tested 1,388 samples of the suspects against which 1,329 results have been received, of which 272 or 20 percent have been diagnosed as positive. The chief minister said that the purpose of lockdown would be served when everyone would observe social distancing voluntarily.
“I would request our people to please stay home, be safe and let other to be safe,” he said. The chief minister directed Imtiaz Shaikh and his relief team to get the required data from the federal government agencies such as Nadra and PDMA so that relief work could be started in the province.
Chief Secretary Balochistan Captain (R) Fazeel Asghar Tuesday said at least 1,854 out of 5,000 Zaireen had been examined and 158 had tested positives. He said 19 patients had recovered adding that some people had minor flue while one patient was in critical condition.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday expressed displeasure at the non-implementation of the National Coordination Committee’s decision to resume the goods transport service across Pakistan and directed the Rangers to secure and ensure a smooth food supply chain from Sindh onwards.
He was chairing a federal cabinet meeting during which a six-point agenda came under discussion. Addressing a press conference after attending the federal cabinet meeting, Special Assistant to the PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan said the premier expressed his strong-worded displeasure when he was told that the NCC decision on resuming the goods transport service for supply of essential items in the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) was not being implemented in true spirit in Sindh.
Dr. Firdous said Pakistan’s imports and exports, which were carried out from the ports in Sindh, were facing multiple challenges due to the lockdown and suspension of goods transport service.
Taking notice, the premier directed the Rangers to immediately remove hurdles in the resumption of goods transport service for smooth supply of food items. The prime minister took the cabinet into confidence on the measures taken so far to prevent the spread of coronavirus and minimize its impact on the national economy.
The meeting was informed that there were a total of 1,865 confirmed coronavirus patients in the country so far out of which 49 returned from Iran, 18 per cent arrived from other countries, 33 per cent were locally transmitted cases, 98 had completely recovered, while 12 were on ventilator.
The prime minister told the meeting that regular monitoring on daily basis was crucial and updating the public on the latest corona situation was handy in tackling the challenge and framing policies accordingly.
He explained that a two-pronged strategy was being followed: one pertained to precautionary measures, awareness, social and health care with active cooperation and participation of the provinces, AJK and GB, while the other was to taking care of those affected directly or indirectly by the virus and these two objectives were to be achieved through a constant plan of action, keeping in view the evolving situation and framing policies.
Imran also announced a relief package of Rs1,200 billion, which the cabinet approved in principle. The premier reiterated his resolve to save people from the virus, keep the wheel of economy moving and save those who could face hunger and loss of livelihood.
Imran also expressed displeasure at the mistreatment of people who had tested positive for the COVID-19. He called for proper counseling of patients and their family members’ involvement in their treatment and referring them to the quarantine.
Dr. Firdous said the prime minister was informed that the coronavirus patients were being treated like untouchables and it was a criminal act and he disapproved of it. Moreover, law-enforcement agencies and hospital security officials have been strictly advised not to treat the confirmed patients as criminals and do not push them into quarantine.
The parameters of cash transfer of Rs150 billion to 12 million people through SMS were explained by Special Assistant on Social Protection Dr. Sania Nishtar, ensuring transparency and the amount reaching the targeted deserving persons, using digital facility and on the basis of biometric system. The poor people would get Rs12,000 for four months.
Explaining its utility, the prime minister made it clear that this initiative was like balm on the ‘wounds’ of the poor and asked the MNAs and MPAs to help mitigate their difficulties. The cabinet also endorsed the ECC decisions taken in its meeting on March 30.
Dr. Firdous noted that the prime minister expressed concern over the condition of labourers working under informal labour laws in the mining sector, brick kilns and other places and asked Special Assistant on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfiqar Bukhari to prepare a strategy for complete registration of the labour class in consultation with all provinces to ensure their social, health and job security.
She said the prime minister also directed introduction of reforms in white elephants like the PIA, Pakistan Railways and FBR and promotion of e-governance. The prime minister directed that the agenda of the cabinet meeting be circulated through emails, saving precious exchequer on stationery. He also asked the ministries to share information and policies on their respective websites.
The prime minister summoned the National Coordination Committee (NCC) meeting on Wednesday (today) to take stock of the coronavirus situation and availability of flour and the measures so far taken and their level of implementation.
The cabinet, she noted, also deliberated on the conduct of the opposition, especially with reference to the government’s strategy to fight the coronavirus pandemic. It was noted that unfortunately Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif was playing dirty politics on the coronavirus and viewed it as a bid to hurt the national unity at this critical juncture.
Dr. Firdous said the leader of opposition was targeting the NCC decisions, which had representation of all the stakeholders, including the four provinces, AJK and GB and the military. By wearing a mask and sitting before a computer, the leader of opposition, she noted, was trying to keep himself politically alive instead of being among the masses.
She blamed the opposition leader for the poor healthcare sector in Punjab despite serving as chief minister for 10 years and advised him to do some retrospection. She also asked him to come out of Jati Umra palaces and be the first to contribute to the PM’s Corona Relief Fund from his massive wealth to prove himself as people-friendly.
She called upon the opposition to join hands with the government in its efforts to combat the virus. In a related development, Prime Minister Imran Khan directed collection of data on availability of facilities, including testing kits and ventilators, to corona-infected patients in hospitals across the country.
The meeting, chaired by the prime minister, reviewed progress on the steps taken for coronavirus prevention, diagnostic facilities, industrial flow in the current situation, government economic package and supply and delivery of basic necessities.
Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar, Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Omar, Advisor to the PM on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Assistant Special to the PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, Focal Person Dr Faisal Sultan, Chairman NDMA Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal and others were present.
Imran directed that the masses be informed about every aspect of the prevailing situation to avoid any confusion. He directed availability of all possible relief to the general public on merit, saying any discrimination in this connection would not be tolerated.
It was decided that government as well as private sector hospitals would be bound to allocate beds other facilities to the corona-infected patients. The prime minister said the experiences of other countries regarding testing and prevention of COVID-19 were also being reviewed closely.
Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal informed the meeting that there were 14 corona testing laboratories on March 13 and now 20 laboratories were fully functional across the country. Moreover, he said work was in progress to establish 12 more labs in the country.