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Government Balancing Hunger and Lockdown: Imran Khan

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Pakistan’s prime minister says ‘friendly’ campaign needed to raise awareness among masses about preventative measures

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said the government was striving to balance lockdown restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 and economic activities to prevent laborers going hungry due to a lack of employment.

Chairing a meeting in Islamabad on the nationwide spread of coronavirus, the premier claimed hunger was more dangerous to people than the coronavirus, adding that if economic activities were not resumed now, the problems of the country’s impoverished would inevitably increase.

Khan said it was increasingly clear lockdowns were not a solution to the coronavirus—despite the World Health Organization repeatedly stating they are, as of now, the only effective means to curb its spread—but rather a temporary measures, and the government would take decisions based on ground realities.

He said the government was aware of the losses the country’s economy had suffered due to the closure of businesses, adding that the decision to enforce lockdowns had ben taken under compulsion. The government has, however, issued guidelines on precautionary measures to prevent the virus from spreading and saving people’s lives, he said.

The prime minister told the meeting’s participants that instead of forcing citizens to adopt precautionary measures, the government should launch a “friendly” awareness campaign about COVID-19 to educate them about it. He also urged police against harassing people found violating SOPs.

Appreciating the media’s role in raising awareness about the pandemic, he said it must now focus on informing people more effectively—without clarifying what that would entail—about adopting precautionary measures and implementing the guidelines required to contain the virus.

The premier claimed the government’s policy about the lockdown was very clear—he has repeatedly said the “elite” imposed it—adding the government would facilitate the people and small businessmen.

The prime minister was also presented by the demands of the automobile sector and shopping malls association, which were then placed before the Industries minister to see if they could also be reopened.

Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza briefed the meeting on the number of people affected by COVID-19, as well as its geographical spread, number of tests conducted, and the rate of increase in the confirmed cases.

The meeting also deliberated on the availability of beds in hospitals to cope with spiking cases, provision of medical equipment and ensuring availability of professional staff. It reviewed various steps taken to improve health facilities and increase the capacity of hospitals.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan attended the meeting via video-link to brief the meeting about the difficulties being faced by the common man due to a ban on public transport.

While the meeting was summoned to discussion the prevailing coronavirus situation in the country, it did not include the chief ministers from Sindh and Balochistan—the two provinces that do not have a PTI-led government, once again raising questions about the federal government’s stated claims of developing all decisions by consensus.

Both Sindh and Balochistan had strongly disagreed with the prime minister’s desire to resume public transport from May 9, potentially explaining why they were not invited to this meeting.

The meeting was attended by federal ministers Asad Umar, Hammad Azhar, Shibli Faraz, Khusro Bakhtiar and Fakhar Imam; advisers to the P.M. Abdul Hafiz Shaikh and Abdul Razak Dawood; special assistants to the P.M. Asim Saleem Bajwa, Dr. Zafar Mirza and Moeed Yusuf; the National Disaster Management Authority chairman; the P.M. focal person on COVID-19 Dr. Faisal, and other senior officials.

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