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ISLAMABAD: Chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the National Coordination Committee (NCC) Monday allowed the opening of businesses for five days until 7pm by strictly observing the SOPs with no trading on Saturday and Sunday.
The committee decided to devise a recommended list of businesses and commercial activities – unanimously agreed upon by the federal government and the federating units – would be circulated to the industry allowing them to resume their activities.
It was also decided to issue a negative list of businesses that would remain suspended in an effort to check further spread of the disease. The meeting also decided to run 40 trains to facilitate the passengers and save the cash-bleeding Pakistan Railways from the financial losses.
The committee thoroughly reviewed the COVID-19 situation in the country and decided to continue pursuing the policy of maintaining balance between life and livelihood while ensuring strict implementation of SOPs to contain the spread of the virus.
The prime minister urged the nation to strictly follow the SOPs for gradual opening of more sectors of economy, as the coronavirus was going nowhere at least for this year. He warned that the government would be left with no option but to imposed curfew if more areas were affected by the virus.
He said more details of decisions taken would be shared with the media after the meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre on Tuesday (today). A mechanism was developed to inform the public daily about the availability of ventilators in hospitals for their guidance.
Owing to uncertainty about the life and spread of the virus, it was reiterated during the meeting that ‘we have to learn to live with COVID; however, SOPs would be implemented to check the spread of the virus’.
The prime minister decided that the stranded Pakistanis abroad, who were mostly the laborers, would not be left unattended during these testing times and special flights would be operated to bring them back.
The prime minister directed that every effort must be made to facilitate them in their travel and ensure their tests soon after arrival at the airports. Addressing the media after the conclusion of meeting, the prime minister repeatedly urged the people to follow the SOPs and adopt social distancing to contain the virus.
He noted that the virus would further spread and unfortunately, there would be more deaths. “On the very first day, I had said that it would be our success, if we lead our life with responsibility and observe precautions, otherwise, we would harm ourselves. Therefore, in today’s meeting, several sectors are being opened.”
He said tourism was one such sector, as people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan earned their livelihood during three-four months of the year and if it was not opened, then they would be left without earnings.
Barring a few specific sectors, he noted, the rest of them were being opened along with SOPs, as the government had two challenges at hand: one to contain the virus and two; save people from hunger and falling below the poverty line.
He noted that 25 million people earned daily and weekly wages, and their families relied on their earning for food and hence round 130-150 million people were linked to this segment of the society. He said Pakistan’s situation was entirely different from China, US and European countries adding that from day one, he was against the lockdown but the provinces were free under the 18th Amendment to take their decisions independently.
“In my opinion, great hardships were caused by the kind of lockdown imposed. I would have never closed the business and construction sector. In US, 0.1 million people have died due to the virus and yet the country has decided to ease the lockdown despite being the richest country with a sound economy, having given $3 trillion stimulus package,” he maintained.
The prime minister continued that many countries went for complete down and the virus was effectively contained but when they softened it, the virus spread with great speed. The prime minister explained that around 25 per cent population lived below the poverty line in Pakistan, because 80 per cent labour was informal.
He said to contain the virus, the answer was lockdown, which was imposed after 26 virus cases were reported in Pakistan. “The virus can be contained but not eliminated, as its vaccine is yet to be developed.”
"The world has agreed, the richest countries have come to the conclusion that the virus will spread no matter what. Nothing can be done about it. The virus will spread and our death toll will also rise [...] I told you that from day one," he said.
"Due to the presence of 18th amendment, provinces in our country can make their own decisions," Khan said, as he derided the "elites" of the country who did not care about the welfare of the poor.
"The reality of our country is that there are 25 million labourers whose families will starve if they don't work. So I, personally, have always believed that a lockdown was going to affect these workers.
"When we impose and enforce lockdowns, people starve. Those who live in DHA don't care about these things," the premier stated. He said tourism was one of the areas where restrictions would be relaxed, as in many areas of Pakistan, tourism thrived only for three to four months in a year.
He said the governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan would prepare SOPs for opening the sector. He said coronavirus was here to stay unless a vaccine was developed to eradicate it, cautioning that the virus would further spread in the coming days.
He said, “We can live with it in a better way if people follow the SOPs and precautionary measures all the time”. He said the services of Corona Relief Tiger Force volunteers would be utilised to increase awareness among the masses about the pandemic and the force would be further strengthened numerically.
Imran assured doctors and paramedics that the government would assist them in every possible way while dealing with coronavirus and that he would soon meet the doctors association representatives in this connection.
Imran said the government had decided that overseas Pakistanis would be allowed to return to Pakistan and they would be tested for coronavirus.
“After the tests, they would be allowed to go to their homes and self-quarantine in case they tested positive,” he added. He said meetings at the National Command and Operation Center were being held daily to closely monitor and take stock of the situation. He said the chief ministers and provincial chief secretaries participated in Monday's meeting.
The Prime minister said lockdown and social distancing slow down the spread of the disease.
He said, “We also have to see the condition of our hospitals, as they cannot not face the burden of patients and medical staff should also not be put under pressure.”
The prime minister said the lockdown had different impacts on people living in luxury and those who were living in the slums adding that the vulnerable segments faced immense difficulties due to the lockdown.
The meeting paid special tribute to the healthcare staff for their invaluable services in saving precious human lives.
The prime minister directed that all possible facilitation, including provision of personal protective equipment and other facilities, be ensured to the healthcare workers, who were the frontline soldiers in the fight against the virus.
The prime minister also appreciated the use of technology and resource management system for ensuring optimum utilization of the healthcare facilities and providing the people with accurate information and easy access to the available health facilities.
He also appreciated the testing, tracking and quarantine strategy that has been developed to effectively test, track and isolate the affected patients. The participants, including all the chief ministers, pledged their commitment in pursuing the decisions taken during the NCC meeting and doing every bit to make the public aware of measures to deal with the COVID and fight it together at the national level.
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pakistan rose to 74,347 on Monday after new infections were confirmed.
Of the total 74,347 confirmed cases, Sindh reported 29,647 cases, Punjab 26,240, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 10,027, Balochistan 4,393, Islamabad Capital Territory 2,589, Gilgit-Baltistan 738 and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) 255.
The death toll rose to 1,574 with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reporting 482 deaths, Punjab 497, Sindh 503, Balochistan 47, Gilgit-Baltistan 11, Islamabad Capital Territory 28, and AJK 6.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government confirmed that 400 healthcare workers had contracted Covid-19 with another 56 more infections among ‘front-line soldiers’ fighting the virus.
According to a report issued by the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department (P&SHD) on Monday, as many as 2,194 healthcare workers were suspected of carrying the virus.
All the suspected workers have been tested and 400 have been diagnosed with the virus so far with a high percentage of 17 percent.
The ratio of coronavirus positive amongst doctors, nurses and other medics in the province has shot up from the previous 12.7 percent to 17 percent within a span of a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the death toll due to Covid-19 reached 497 as 22 more perish in Punjab Monday, while confirmed cases of coronavirus raced to 26,240 with the addition of 1,184 new infections in the province.
So far 199 casualties have been reported from Lahore, 98 Rawalpindi, 52 Multan, 41 Faisalabad, 37 Gujranwala, 16 Gujrat, nine Sargodha, seven Bahawalpur, six Sialkot, five Rahim Yar Khan, three each Sahiwal, Jhang, Muzaffargarh and Toba Tek Singh, two each Hafizabad, Nankana Sahib, Sheikhupura and Narowal and one each from Attock, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalnagar, Khushab, Kasur, Jhelum and Rajanpur.
Out of total Covid-19 patients in Punjab so far, as many as 1,926 are preachers of Tableeghi Jamaat, 768 pilgrims, who returned from Iran, 86 prisoners in nine districts and 23, 370 citizens who mostly have fallen prey to local transmission.
So far 12,881 patients have been reported from Lahore, 2,136 Rawalpindi, 1,677 Multan, 1,507 Faisalabad, 1,466 Gujranwala, 870 Sialkot, 799 Gujrat, 451 Sargodha, 425 Dera Ghazi Khan, 378 Sheikhupura, 364 Hafizabad, 304 Rahim Yar Khan, 280 Kasur, 232 Muzaffargarh, 218 each Jhelum and Bahawalpur, 198 Mandi Bahauddin, 178 Lodhran, 150 Vehari, 148 Khushab, 147 Nankana Sahib, 121 Narowal, 120 Sahiwal, 109 Bhakkar, 97 Bahawalnagar, 90 Attock, 81 Jhang, 79 Layyah, 65 Toba Tek Singh, 63 Okara, 58 Pakpattan, 54 Khanewal, 52 Chiniot, 47 Mianwali and 35 Chakwal.
As per spokesperson for the P&SHD’s Corona Monitoring Room, so far 239,173 tests have been performed in the province. Out of these, he said, 26,240 have been tested positive.
He said highest number of cases have been reported from 16-30 years age group followed by 31-45 years age group. He said the lowest number of cases have been reported from above 75 years age group. He said 7,021 patients have recovered and returned home, 497 died while 18,722 were isolated at home or under treatment at different quarantine centres and health facilities.