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Follow SOPs or Risk Economic Collapse, Warns Shibli Faraz

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo of Information Minister Shibli Faraz. Courtesy PID

Pakistan’s information minister claims surge in coronavirus cases can be halved if citizens adopt preventative measures

If the public does not adopt the standard operating procedures (SOPs) introduced by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19, Islamabad will have no choice but to impose a strict lockdown that could provoke a “total economic collapse” of Pakistan, warned Information Minister Shibli Faraz on Tuesday.

Addressing a press conference after a meeting of the federal cabinet, the minister reiterated his government’s claims that Pakistan was too poor to sustain a prolonged lockdown. “It would inevitably impact the impoverished the most and result in losses to the economy,” he said.

Faraz blamed the recent surge in coronavirus cases on the public, claiming they had ignored the government’s SOPs, especially during Eidul Fitr when the government allowed shopping malls and markets to reopen. “When the government eased restrictions, it also issued SOPs and advised the people to adopt precautionary measures and practice social distancing,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the people neglected the directives… if the masses start following the SOPs, the increase in the coronavirus cases could be reduced to half,” he added, reiterating Prime Minister Imran Khan in claiming this would keep the economy functioning while also saving the vulnerable from starvation.

The minister said that the provinces had now been empowered to impose strict lockdowns in areas considered COVID-19 hotspots. He said the government had decided to take strict action against people who continued to violate SOPs to ensure the government directions would be heeded.

Summarizing the government’s efforts to combat the pandemic, Faraz said the government was focusing on simultaneously saving people’s lives, and the national economy. He said a comprehensive plan, backed by the National Command and Operation Center, was being pursued to overcome it.

According to the press release issued after the briefing, Faraz cited Prime Minister Imran Khan as emphasizing that the incumbent government had a “clear-cut policy” on handling the coronavirus outbreak. He claimed Pakistan could not afford an “open-ended” lockdown, as being advised by critics, adding that the country’s ground realities risked endangering society’s poorer segments under that scenario.

The minister also sought to discourage any commentary comparing Pakistan’s response to foreign nations—and then compared it with India himself. He claimed Delhi’s lockdown had been far stricter than Pakistan’s but easing it had resulted in a massive spike in cases and left the neighboring nation’s economy in peril as well.

The cabinet also approved the creation of a COVID-19 fund under the Public Account of the Federation maintained by the State Bank of Pakistan for the remaining amount of Rs. 1.2 trillion allocated for coronavirus relief activities so the amount would not lapse in the next fiscal year.

Faraz said the cabinet had approved a fixed price for the Remdesivir injection being used to help treat COVID-19 patients, adding no duty would be imposed on its import.

Meeting minutes

Apart from the pandemic, said the information minister, the cabinet approved several decisions of the Economic Coordination Committee, including risk allowance for healthcare workers; an Electric Vehicle policy for 2-3 wheelers; duty-free import of wheat and a ban on its export.

Faraz said the cabinet also discussed the issue of high-rise buildings near airports in major cities, adding the Civil Aviation Authority would complete its study and submit a report by July 31, 2020.

The information minister said the cabinet had unanimously approved a draft law for the protection of the rights of children working as domestic help. He said it had also decided to resume phase-wise international flights for repatriation of overseas Pakistanis, with the prime minister directing officials to expedite the process.

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