Pakistan’s prime minister says country will have to learn with coronavirus, as he warns of more infections and deaths in the days to come
The Government of Pakistan has decided to bring back all citizens stranded overseas, announced Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday, because “they send valuable remittances to us.”
In a nationally televised press statement following a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC), the prime minister said that there had been initial difficulties in bringing back stranded Pakistanis because provincial governments had said they did not have the facilities to properly quarantine and test them. “So, we have decided that we will bring everyone back and they will be allowed to go home immediately after providing a sample for coronavirus testing,” he said. “Once the test results come back, those who are positive will be told to go into quarantine,” he added.
This policy has great potential in aiding the spread of COVID-19, as there is a great chance that returning migrants would meet with family and friends upon their return without realizing that they might be have the virus, as they weren’t provided test results before being allowed to go home.
According to the prime minister, the NCC has consulted with health experts and lawmakers in designing Pakistan’s response to the coronavirus situation. “Since day one, I never wanted to impose a lockdown,” he said, adding that unfortunately the 18th amendment allowed provinces to make their own decisions and the country had been forced to shut down businesses. “The elite also pressured for lockdowns but the poor had no voice,” he said.
“I would not have stopped business and construction as we had to balance the situation,” he said, adding that the novel coronavirus cannot be cured with lockdowns, and the entire world is waiting for a vaccine.
“America—which has given a stimulus of $3,000 billion—has also decided to lift the lockdown as their economy would collapse because there is no guarantee that the virus will go away if a lockdown persists,” he said, without mentioning how large parts of the U.S. had flattened the curve before lockdowns were eased, while areas where lockdowns were eased prematurely have seen a dramatic surge in cases in recent weeks.
Sounding a note of optimism, the prime minister said that if people took precautionary measures, the virus could be tackled, but, he added, lockdowns would ruin the economy. “Even if close down specific areas, then the businesses of those areas would be impacted,” he said.
Khan said the government had prepared a negative list of sectors that would remain shut, adding that this would be shared later in the day, as lawmakers are still debating whether or not to allow tourism to resume. “Several places only earn money during the summer months and if we don’t open tourism, people will be adversely affected due to no income,” he said, adding—mostly incorrectly—that lockdowns only increase miseries and have little effect on curbing the spread of the virus.
“Our country is not in a state where we can indefinitely end lockdowns, as it would have an adverse effect our economy,” said the prime minister, getting to the crux of why lockdown measures must be eased. “Our exports have plunged and we fear that our remittances might fall as well,” he added.
In a portion of his speech directed to healthcare workers, he claimed that he had been worried about them from day one and was aware of the pressure on them. “We will soon launch a program whereby patients will be aware of availability of beds and ventilators in hospitals to help reduce the burden on you,” he said. “I will meet with doctors’ associations in the coming week,” he said, adding that even so, lockdowns could not be re-imposed upon their suggestion, as Pakistan had to tread a “fine line” between saving the economy and stopping the spread of coronavirus. “How long can we keep feeding money to the impoverished impacted by the coronavirus lockdown,” he asked.
The prime minister concluded his statement by saying most people did not have much to fear from the coronavirus—a false and irresponsible assertion, as it can cause cardiac issues in even the very young, and has been found to cause long-term lung damage in patients who fully recover. “Those with diabetes, blood pressure, and the elderly face a risk from the virus,” he said. “If we implement the SOPs, we can save their lives as well. I will also urge the Tiger Force volunteers to help raise awareness about preventative measures among the common man, as we have found that the elite are following SOPs, but the average citizen is not,” he added.
According to Khan, there is no way to eradicate the virus right now. “Unfortunately, infections will rise, as will deaths, but if we all adopt SOPs, we can reduce their numbers,” he said. “It is now up to you to determine how bad or good it gets based on how you follow the SOPs.”