Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation yesterday, saying that he had not imposed a nationwide lockdown as the poor would suffer.
“If we cannot provide food to the people of the country, then this lockdown will not be successful,” he said.
“Look at India. Their prime minister said sorry to the people today for imposing a lockdown,” Khan added.
The prime minister compared the relief package of the United States with Pakistan, saying that there was no comparison between the two.
“I announced a relief package of $8bn and the US announced a $2tn,” he said.
The prime minister said that the nation will battle the coronavirus with two key elements: faith and Pakistan’s young population.
“We have to combat coronavirus and use these two strengths to win the war [against coronavirus],” he said.
The coronavirus causes the Covid-19 disease.
The prime minister announced a “Corona Tigers Relief Force”, which would aid the administration and the armed forces in containing the coronavirus.
He said that a dedicated cell at the Prime Minister’s Office is monitoring the spread of the virus.
Khan said that the relief force will provide food to the people at their homes and educate them on the safety precautions against the coronavirus.
He said that the government is opening an account with the name “Prime Minister Corona Relief Fund”, which will help aid people affected by the pandemic.
Khan said that the account will be opened in the National Bank of Pakistan.
He called on the people to donate generously to the account, and said that no questions will be asked about the money which is donated.
Earlier, the prime minister presided at a high-level meeting in Islamabad, at which he underscored the government’s resolve to take all-out steps to provide possible relief to people and every sector of the economy.
Khan said that the country is facing an unprecedented situation and that government institutions need to play a vibrant role in this crisis.
The prime minister directed the minister for national food security to keep an eye on the availability of essential items in the country and to ensure that there is no shortage of flour, pulses, rice, ghee and sugar.
He also called for constituting a special committee, comprising federal and provincial authorities, to monitor the situation of food on daily basis and present its recommendations.
Special Assistant on Social Protection Dr Sania Nishtar gave a detailed briefing to the prime minister regarding steps taken to provide relief to vulnerable segments in the context of prevailing situation.
Khan has also ordered the removal of all hurdles to the transportation of goods and the opening of all national highways to ensure smooth and adequate supply of food items from farms/factories to markets amid “panic buying” due to the coronavirus.
The meeting was informed that the government had started providing personal protection equipment (PPE) to all medical practitioners, including doctors and paramedical staff currently performing their duty in different hospitals, and that intensive care units (ICUs) and quarantine centres had been established across the country for coronavirus patients.
In case of the death of any of the medical practitioners on duty, he/she would be given Shuhada [martyr] package, it was told.
“The core committee was apprised that although the prime minister had ordered restoration of movement of goods transport in the whole county a couple of days ago, almost 80% of goods transport was still off the road due to certain restrictions made by provincial governments, including the blocking of national highways,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said at a post-meeting press conference.
She said that Prime Minister Khan was quite concerned over reports about the shortage of food items in many parts of the country, and had ordered strict action against those involved in hoarding, black marketing, and the charging of exorbitant prices.
Awan said that the prime minister had held consultations with the provinces and would announce a road map to ensure the smooth supply of essential items across the country.
Khan, she said, was informed that there is sufficient quantity of food items in the country, including agriculture products like wheat, rice, pulses and grains.
She said that a fund of Rs10bn had been allocated for the supply of rations and provision of Rs4,000 each as stipend to the poor and needy people.
“In the first step, 2.5mn people already registered under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) will get Rs4,000 per month through Easypaisa, while those not in the database will get the money through the relevant deputy commissioners,” she said, adding that those BISP beneficiaries who are already receiving monetary assistance would not get Rs4,000 stipend, as it is specially meant for the poor and daily wagers who had lost their source of income due to the countrywide lockdown.
Awan said that the Pakistan Tekreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led Punjab government would provide Rs4,000 stipend to 8,000 poor families in all 302 constituencies of the provincial assembly.
The provincial government, she said, would establish eight laboratories to fight coronavirus, and had started the process of appointing 10,000 doctors and paramedical staff.
“These labs will carry out 3,200 tests in a day to exactly ascertain the number of coronavirus patients in the province.”
The adviser said that in order to give recognition to the services of doctors and other medical practitioners, the government would give them one-month additional salary and provide Shuhada package to those who lose their lives in the performance of their duty.
She said the PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had allocated a sum of Rs32bn to fight the deadly disease, of which Rs11.4bn would be spent on providing rations and stipend to 1.9mn poor families.
Awan said the coverage of the BISP under the government’s flagship Ehsaas programme is being enhanced, with 5mn more beneficiaries to be included.
The KP and Punjab governments would give additional Rs2,000 per month to the BISP beneficiaries, she added.
Awan said that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is establishing five coronavirus testing laboratories in the country, including two in Karachi, which would double the authority’s capacity to conduct test of suspected patients.
Responding to a question about the role of the opposition, she said that the politicians should help the government in this time of need and avoid criticism for the sake of criticism.
“If they are criticising the government, they are in fact criticising those sons and daughters who are performing their duties in every field of life, putting their lives in danger of coronavirus spread,” Awan added.
She said the prime minister is treating all provinces equally, and those being ruled by opposition parties – Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit-Baltistan and Sindh – are also given the same assistance that the Centre is providing to the PTI-led provinces.
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