Addressing World Economic Forum, Pakistan’s P.M. says country has eased lockdown to restore economy despite rising spread of COVID-19
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday urged developed nations and relevant international bodies to announce debt relief for developing nations, including Pakistan, to help countries struggling with economic difficulties overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
Addressing the COVID Action Platform of the World Economic Forum via video-link from Islamabad, Khan said debt relief was necessary for developing countries to enable sufficient fiscal space for overburdened healthcare systems and mitigate the economic effects of lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“The experience of the developed world is completely different to what we are facing in the developing world… The speed at which COVID-19 spread in Europe and the United States, we’re not experiencing the same sort of speed,” he said, adding that Pakistan had yet to reach its peak.
“From day one… we had to face this twin challenge: one was to stop [and] stem the growth of the virus, hence, the lockdown. But the bigger challenge, increasingly in our country, is how to mitigate the effects of lockdown on our population with rising poverty,” he said.
According to the prime minister, Pakistan has 25 million laborers who are paid daily or weekly, and lockdowns imposed to prevent COVID-19 from spreading have rendered them jobless. “Unless the men and the women work, they cannot feed their families. What my government did was we launched a cash program and reached nearly 15 million families with cash transfers but this is only a short-term solution,” he said.
“Therefore, despite the rising cases in our country, we have decided to ease our lockdown and reopen our construction industry so that people can find employment because there is no way that the government can provide for all. The only way we can do that is by providing employment,” he said, not mentioning that the country has reopened pretty much every sector of the economy, with only educational institutions and restaurants still bound by any movement restrictions.
‘Live with it’
“The way forward is for our nation to realize that we have to live with this virus at least until a vaccine comes out and balances it,” he said, claiming the Corona Relief Tiger Force would help the overburdened local administration and law enforcement agencies in raising awareness among the citizenry.
“This volunteer force will encourage people not to have large gatherings and spread awareness among masses to follow the SOPs [standard operating procedures] necessary to stem the virus,” he said.
Khan said the global community needed to come together to deal with the challenge posed by the novel coronavirus, adding that in addition to exports falling due to COVID-19, remittances had also dropped due to layoffs of Pakistani workers in foreign countries.
The prime minister said developing nations should take precedence in any debt relief measures, and claimed the country was adopting policies that would allow the economy to function as normal while isolating hotspots. The effectiveness of this policy has yet to see any substantive results, as the virus is continuing to spread rapidly.
Speaking of a global debt program, Khan said: “The G20 has come up with a debt relief plan but it needs more details and work. Let me just put it this way: many of the developing countries face this situation where, because of their debt-servicing, their fiscal space has contracted and they are unable to cope with this challenge of health facilities,” he said. “The reason why there should be a debt relief and the G20 is looking into it is because we need to divert those resources to health and also to environment and, unfortunately, that space is not there,” he added.
Pakistan on Thursday reported its confirmed coronavirus cases had climbed to 48,091, with 14,155 recoveries and 1,017 deaths. There are currently 32,919 active cases of the disease nationwide.