In televised address, Pakistan’s prime minister urges healthcare workers to consider their jobs a ‘jihad’ against coronavirus
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said he would personally monitor the enforcement of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, adding provinces would submit daily reports to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“We will close down places that violate SOPs. All monitoring will be done from [Prime Minister’s Office] and anyone found violating SOPs would be closed, whether it’s a shop, a mall or a factory,” he said. “If the virus is spreading in a neighborhood, and people aren’t following rules, we will cordon off the area. The Tiger Force will help the administration with this,” he added.
The prime minister said that the government had not been strictly enforcing SOPs earlier because it was “gathering data.” However, he said, now that we are aware of the levels of adoption, “I will personally monitor, analyze and enforce strictness.”
During his speech, the prime minister took special care to target neighboring India for its “flawed lockdown,” claiming Pakistan had done much better. He said Pakistan was “saved because a complete and extended lockdown” was not enforced. “We resumed construction activities very early on and then we eased restrictions further,” he said, claiming this had allowed the impoverished to earn livelihoods.
Referring to a survey monitoring the Indian economy that claimed rich people in India were “not affected” by the pandemic, he said that it had shown that 34 percent of households in India could not survive without government support for two weeks. He said he had always maintained that lockdowns would impact the needy. “Think of katchi abaadis and daily wagers. Why were we saved? Because we did not do a complete lockdown,” he said, while ignoring that the majority of infections are also occurring among the same impoverished and their lives are being threatened by the government’s desire to see the economy continue functioning.
“We donated money [through the Ehsaas program] effectively and efficiently, and this is why Pakistan’s situation is not like India,” he said. “I am so proud of myself and my team for our coronavirus response,” he added.
The prime minister said that it appeared the opposition wanted to see a large number of deaths due to COVID-19, to see the country’s economy “fail so that they can criticize the government further.” He claimed “the situation in Pakistan was a lot better than the world,” adding that “we did not come under pressure [to enforce lockdowns].”
In seeming contradiction of his targeting the opposition, and suggesting that criticism of his coronavirus response was akin to “hiding corruption” from the public, he said that during this difficult time, “nations will have to come together.”
He said that there was great need to raise awareness of the threat posed by the pandemic, lamenting that people in Pakistan considered it a hoax. The PTI’s own lawmakers, especially in Sindh province, have repeatedly told press conferences that infection numbers are inflated and coronavirus is not a serious concern.
“People need to know that it will spread if they don’t follow SOPs and that will increase burden on hospitals,” said the prime minister. “We will place the lives of people who can be saved, the elderly in danger [by not following SOPs],” he said.
To help people find available beds and ventilators, said Khan, the government had appointed data managers at all hospitals to provide “accurate data” and feedback on available facilities.
In a part of his speech directed at healthcare workers, the prime minister said the government would soon announce a special package for them to compensate them for their efforts. He said that the way this virus works, it is “inevitable” that cases and deaths will rise in the coming days. “In the world you will see that the [graph] first goes up and then goes down. Right now we are going up,” he said, not bothering to comment on how the country’s infections have been increasing since March while most other nations have already “flattened the curve.”
The prime minister said he could “predict” the situation from the coronavirus would worsen after easing lockdowns, and told doctors that they had to consider their jobs a ‘jihad’ against coronavirus and act accordingly.
Khan claimed—erroneously—that Pakistan’s fatality rate was less than 1 percent—the “lowest in the world.” This is clearly false. Per the government’s own COVID-19 dashboard, Pakistan has a fatality rate of 2 percent, which is in line with most countries that have insufficient testing.
Listing measures adopted by the government since the pandemic started, the prime minister said testing labs had been increased from 2 to 107; testing capacity from 500/day to 1,200,000/month; 2,800 beds with ventilators to 4,800, with 1,400 more currently on order; ICU beds have increased from 600 to 1,300. “We can’t increase more because we don’t have trained staff,” he said.