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June 6, 2020

No role of mosques in COVID-19 spread: PM Imran Khan

Top Story

June 6, 2020

No role of mosques in COVID-19 spread: PM Imran Khan

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said that mosques had no role in spreading Covid-19 as he ruled out the possibility of reverting to the lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus and said that the country now could not afford it.

However, he was optimistic that the country could still avert tough times in its anti-Covid 19 fight if the people followed the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for which the role of the Corona Relief Tiger Force for creating awareness and enforcement was important.

Addressing the Corona Relief Tiger Force, the prime minister sought their role in ensuring adherence to the SOPs and added if people managed to make sure that the precautionary measures would be followed, then Pakistan would be able to slow the spread of the virus and there would not be that much pressure on hospitals. The country’s healthcare system, he made it clear, was under pressure, which could only be released by flattening the curve of coronavirus cases.

The prime minister emphasised that even now, if people take precautions and follow SOPs, he was sure Pakistan would not have to go through tough times other countries were going through. He apprised the volunteer force of their future role, particularly for the enforcement of the anti-Covid SOPs as well as relief services in the locked down areas besides in the government’s efforts to eliminate the locusts. He said Allah Almighty had showered blessings on Pakistan by protecting it against the much-apprehended bad times for which the prime minister lauded the role of the peopleas well as his team for assessing the situation and making right decisions. “We can’t stop the spread of the virus and if we lock people inside rooms, then it will be slowed down for some time but would not stop and if we opt for the lockdown, then the entire world has witnessed that the worst suffers of it are the poor people,” he maintained.

The prime minister pointed out that only Pakistan and the United Kingdom had realized the necessity of the volunteers force and around 35,000 volunteers turned up to work in Italy and 60,000 in the UK, but in Pakistan, over million had registered while about 175,000 came to work, which showed a great passion among the Pakistani people. The government, he emphasised, would need the Tiger Force’s support to apprise the people of the importance of SOPs at the shops, markets and industries, which were opened subject to the adherence to certain conditions. He said Pakistan was the only Islamic country to allow Taraveeh congregations during the Holy Ramazan and due to the Ulema’s cooperation, the country had not seen any breakout from mosques. In that regard, the Tigers also played a positive role by visiting the mosques and making the people follow the guidelines, he added, while exemplifying and appreciating the volunteers’ role in Sialkot.

The prime minister noted Brazil had touched the mark of 1,300 deaths in a day, the United States 2,000 plus, and as many in the UK and European countries, but Pakistan was lucky to have recorded only 17,00 deaths in over three months. He told the volunteers that the government would constantly keep them updated about the situation and their role. The government, he explained, might seal some coronavirus hotspots in future and in such a case, the Corona Tigers would have to play their role to ensure food supply and other services to support the city administration. The prime minister said the spike of the coronavirus could be slowed down if the volunteers succeeded to aware and make the people follow the SOPs, reiterating that the poor people would be the biggest casualty if the government reverted to the lockdown. “What to talk of Pakistan, poverty had increased even in the developed countries where the people were seen queued up to receive food. Similarly, the poverty graph surged in India where the people died of hunger owing to the strict lockdown,” he contended.

He said the Asian Development Bank had appreciated Pakistan for distributing huge funds among around 16 million people, including small medium enterprises (SMEs), unemployed and job losers within the minimum possible time, and applauded the Ehsaas programme chief Dr Sania Nishtar and her team. The situation, he pointed out, could have turned worse had the government not timely distributed cash support among the people and added that the lockdown would not impact the rich or the salaried class but the daily wagers and the government’s Ehsaas programme could not support the people for long. The prime minister said the pandemic had badly hit even the developed economies and noted that the virus surfaced at a time when Pakistan was getting out of tough financial situation. Due to the pandemic, the country’s tax revenues had declined by Rs800 billion.

As the government was in the process of formulating next annual budget, he said it would have to face difficult situation to enhance its revenues. Prime Minister said besides pointing out the hoarders, the Tiger Force volunteers were supposed to keep an eye on the availability of food items at the Utility Stores. He said the government would also require the Tiger Force’s support in its efforts against the locust swarms, which, in some countries, could even create famine like situation by destroying the crops and famine was being feared in Africa. He added the force would work along with the administration to fight the locusts. Moreover, he said, the volunteers’ role to support the government’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami project was vital to enhance the country’s forest cover and thus avert the future water crisis.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a high level meeting on the budget for the financial year 2020-20 and the government economic team, led by the Finance Adviser Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, who briefed the prime minister on the strategy for implementing the government's priorities, keeping in view the revenue, expenditure and ground realities of the budget for the next financial year.

Addressing the meeting, the prime minister said that the corona epidemic had affected every segment and efforts to stabilise the economy and move it forward have been affected. He said that keeping in view these realities, the first priority of the government was to promote those sectors which would create job opportunities for the youth and boost the economic process. He said that reduction in non-development expenditure, especially reduction in unnecessary government expenditure, has been a priority of the present government from day one. The prime minister said that in view of the current situation, special focus on this goal was needed. He said that the present economic situation demanded that the pace of reforms be accelerated so that the unnecessary burden on the people could be minimised and relief could be provided to them.

Parliamentary Leader of the PPP in the Senate, Sherry Rehman questioned lifting the lockdown and the role of Tiger Force. In her response to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address, the PPP leader said that according to the prime minister, Pakistan cannot afford another lockdown but when did the federal government enforced one in the first place. “Had there been a proper lockdown, the outbreak would not have escalated out of control. Saying that the lockdown has hurt the poor and our economy, and then also firing 9,000 plus Steel Mills workers is ironic,” she said.