Information minister says country’s economy cannot afford any more lockdowns and urges public to wear masks and get vaccinated
Pakistan’s economy cannot sustain another lockdown and the government has decided it will not impose any such restrictions despite the country entering the fifth wave of the pandemic, Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain announced on Tuesday.
“It is our resolve that we absolutely will not impose a lockdown in Pakistan,” he said in a press conference after a weekly meeting of the federal cabinet. Dismissing rumors of planned closures of educational institutions to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, he noted that the cabinet had been informed that the positivity ratio of coronavirus had doubled in the past week.
Urging citizens to get vaccinated and start wearing masks again, he claimed Pakistan had proven a “success story” in its handling of the pandemic. “We will not impose a lockdown. We will, however, monitor the situation. We urge everyone to wear masks,” he said, adding that the government had invested $2 billion to procure vaccines for an ongoing campaign to inoculate the country’s eligible population.
According to the information minister, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has nearly finalized a plan to charge Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif for submitting a “false affidavit” regarding the return of his elder brother and former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, after being treated in the U.K. He said that it had been decided to file a case against Shahbaz at the Lahore High Court and seek his disqualification from Parliament.
“The cabinet decided to file a case against Shahbaz Sharif for giving a fake undertaking for return of his elder brother after treatment. Nawaz Sharif went abroad as a result of fraud and his activities in London make a mockery of the state of Pakistan and its laws,” claimed Fawad, adding that Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan had been tasked with taking this forward. He claimed that Shahbaz could be disqualified on the basis of violating “Article 63 of the Constitution.”
He claimed that Nawaz had not undergone “any treatment in London” in the past 17 months, and accused the Sharif family of refusing to share any information about it with the government. “Such tactics prove that Shahbaz Sharif was fully involved in the fraud of sending Nawaz Sharif abroad on the pretext of his medical condition,” he alleged.
Fawad said the federal cabinet had been briefed on the Murree tragedy and informed that the Punjab government had set up an inquiry committee to probe the incident. He said the cabinet was informed around 164,000 vehicles entered Murree in only five days, and 22 people died after being stranded between Kuldana and Barian. He claimed the heavy snowfall had made it difficult for machinery and helicopters to reach the area for relief operations, forcing people to remain in their vehicles, where the victims perished due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Dismissing criticism of the government’s encouragement of tourism without adequate infrastructure development, he claimed the PTI had developed 13 new tourist resorts, adding that having more such sites would reduce burden on popular destinations like Murree.
The minister said the government would provide electronic voting machines to the Election Commission of Pakistan by April 15 so they could be used in the Islamabad local government polls. He said the cabinet had also appointed Asif Rashid as chairman of the Intellectual Property Organization, while approval had been granted to make the Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan the regulator of ‘Credit Guarantee Trust Fund’ under the Islamabad Capital Territory Trust Act, 2020, to curb the outflow of illicit capital.
Fawad claimed the government would soon launch a 400-kanal housing project in Islamabad for overseas Pakistanis, adding this would comprise 6,000 apartments and would enable overseas Pakistanis to buy properties in Pakistan without fear. He claimed the government expected to fetch $2 billion through this project.
He said the cabinet had approved the appointment of Liaqat Massih Qaiser as a member to the National Commission for Minorities and had granted approval for the Science, Technology and Innovation policy.
He said the prime minister had stressed the need to expedite work on the Kharian-Rawalpindi motorway, adding that a meeting in that regard would be convened by next week. He said the cabinet had also approved the import of 50,000 metric tons of urea from China, adding that Rs. 50 billion had been given to Chinese independent power producers to resolve their issues.