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ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz on Monday expressed the hope that the government would succeed in controlling the spread of the coronavirus while keeping the economy afloat with the people acting responsibly and adopting precautionary measures after easing of the lockdown.
Addressing the COVID-19 Video Conference organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here, he said the decision to ease restrictions across the country from May 9 was made after two months’ deliberations and consultations with all the federating units.
It was now the responsibility of people to strictly follow the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and maintain social distancing for their own safety and the country's good as no government could successfully implement its strategies without the wholehearted support of the masses particularly in adverse situations confronting the country, the minister added.
Shibli Faraz said the government would continue to monitor the situation on daily basis and if there was an unexpected surge in COVID-19 cases due to the people's negligence in not following the SOPs, it might be forced to opt for a strict lockdown.
He said the people seemed to be less concerned as the contagion had not affected Pakistan like it hit other countries, particularly the United States and a few European states.
The slow surge in the coronavirus cases in Pakistan, among other factors, owed to the timely and prompt preventive measures put in place by the government to check its onslaught, besides expansion and improvement in the health system since the first COVID-19 case came to light in February, he added.
The minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan had been personally supervising the situation on daily basis. The National Coordination Committee on COVID-19 was formed to monitor the spread of the pandemic.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was tasked to procure required medical equipment and supplies, and enhance coordination with the provincial governments and hospitals throughout the country to meet their requirements.
The National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC), he said, was also set up, which had been continuously keeping a close eye on the situation and updating information about new infections casualties, while devising strategies for slowing down the spread of virus through collective wisdom of all the stakeholders.
“We are grateful to Allah Almighty that our efforts have succeeded to some extent in checking exponential increase in the COVID-19 cases,” he said, adding the government wasted no time in establishing quarantine facilities and making efforts to procure testing kits, required medical equipment, masks, ventilators and personal protective equipment for the medical staff fighting on the front line in the battle against the deadly virus.
He said the brotherly country of China was the first one to donate heavy consignments of medical supplies while according priority to the shipment of other equipment like ventilators, for which Pakistan had placed orders.
They also sent a team of Chinese doctors to give technical guidance to Pakistani medical professionals in dealing with the virus, he said.
The information minister said the government deliberately avoided taking impulsive actions like the decision of not repatriating Pakistani students from China despite tremendous pressure from their parents and a section of media.
Instead of analysing the situation rationally, some elements resorted to unqualified criticism against the government, but the time proved that its decision was right. “We again thank the Chinese government for taking care of our students like their own citizens,” he said.
Shibli Faraz said the government had been keeping a close watch on the ever changing situation. It imposed the lockdown in the country not in a strict way it had been done in China and a few other countries because it believed and rightly so that the strategies proving successful in other countries though provided the required direction to fight the menace yet they could not be fully replicated here because of different social, religious, cultural and economic realities.
He said the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had been proactively disseminating information about the coronavirus since its onset. These efforts, he added, included a wide range of activities encompassing electronic, print and social media along with interpersonal mediums.
He said in collaboration with the NCOC, communication activities had been undertaken by PTV, APP, Cyber Wing, Directorate of Electronic Media and Publications, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and Press Information Department.
Those activities, he said, included public service messages, press releases, articles, editorials, advertisements, press conferences, talk shows, social media campaigns and radio shows.
He said the primary objective of communication was promotion and projection of the government’s guidelines in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also aimed at repeating and reminding the people about the tangible benefits of adopting a responsible behaviour while highlighting the significance of social distancing, he said. The minister said the people were also motivated to look after the weaker and needy segments of the society.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, he said, launched a sustained campaign to create awareness among the masses about the danger that the pandemic posed and the preventive measures that were needed to be taken to sustain the efforts of the government in dealing with the challenge.
He said the ministry introduced an android application particularly designed to facilitate Pakistani media to stay updated about the coronavirus pandemic and report the cases.
The app could be used by any person seeking the latest updates and basic information about COVID-19 globallyas well as about Pakistan.
He said the Information Ministry also implemented the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme communication strategy to the print and electronic media. Pakistani Television and Radio Pakistan, he said, took the initiatives of live transmission of Taraweeh prayer during the holy month of Ramazan.
He said the commencement of Tele-school in collaboration with the Ministry of Education was another major step undertaken by the Information Ministry in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the lockdown, all educational institutions had been closed but the channel had been airing educational programmes to educate the students allowing them to continue with their studies, he said.
The Ministry of Information, Shibli Faraz, said used all its social media platforms to create awareness among the masses about the virus, the factors that cause the infection and how to limit its spread, particularly educating them to observe social distancing in everyday life.
Through the platforms the ministry had been constantly urging the people to stay at home and leave only in case of extreme urgency, the minister said.
He appreciated the media for making relentless efforts in creating awareness among the masses, impressing upon them the need to contribute to this national effort by observing social distancing.
He said while the government had been engaged in procuring the required equipment from abroad and expanding the health facilities throughout the country, it also accorded great attention to the local production of necessary equipment.
It was a matter of great satisfaction that the production of ventilators, different types of masks, personal protective equipment (PPE),sanitizers and other necessities had already started which would surely help in mitigating the sufferings of the coronavirus victims and slowing down the spread of infection, while reducing pressure on the country’s healthcare structure.
The government also organised training sessions for the doctors and medical staff assigned to handle the infected individuals, he said. The minister said the government was also mindful of the impact of corona pandemic on the economy and the poor segments of the society.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was seriously concerned about the plight of the poor people, particularly the daily wagers and was rightly not in favour of a curfew like lockdown in the country, he remarked.
“It was honestly felt that our economy was not in a position to take that kind of hit and the government also could not afford to allow the people to starve to death.
Therefore in order to create a balance, the government opted for smart lockdowns and announced a stimulus relief package of Rs1200 billion to support industries, businesses and agriculture sector as well as to provide financial support to the people of the lower strata of the society through Ehsaas Cash Emergency Programme.
“The minister said the government also allowed the opening of the construction sector and gave it the status of an industry. To provide incentive for investments in this industry the government announced that no questions would be asked about the source of the money invested in the sector.
Other measures to provide relief to the masses and to make their lives easy included deferred payments of utility bills, reduction in price of petroleum products, availability of items of daily use including food items through Utility Stores Corporation outlets, he added.
He said as the government was not in a position to bear the burden of the money required to deal with the corona challenge, the prime minister established a PM COVID Relief Fund, besides the launch of NDMA Fund.
The prime minister also formed Corona Relief Tiger Force, a corps of volunteers to guide the masses about safety measures and for providing ration to the poor people in case there is a need to impose strict lockdown, said Shibli Faraz.
He appreciated the support of think tanks like SDPI in creating awareness about corona pandemic and their contribution regarding different policy choices to deal with the snow-balling situation.
He said such conferences would go a long way in highlighting media role in awareness and in evolving effective strategies through collective input provided by the participating media experts and intellectuals.