Former prime minister urges incumbent government to take COVID-19 ‘seriously’ and take steps to halt its spread
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Friday urged the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government to take the spread of the novel coronavirus seriously and pledged the opposition’s full support in dealing with the pandemic.
In a speech to the National Assembly, Abbasi noted that COVID-19 was a global pandemic. “The government must take this issue seriously and take all necessary steps to control its spread,” he said, adding a Joint Session of Parliament should immediately be summoned to discuss the situation.
“All of Pakistan should be able to see that the government, their representatives are serious about resolving this matter,” said the senior Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader. “The health minister should come to Parliament and inform us of the government’s plans, what it is doing to counter this pandemic,” he said, adding that it was necessary to remember that coronavirus was not immediately visible and could stay hidden in patients for days.
“Statistically, I would not be surprised if 30 to 40 percent of the parliamentarians in the Lower House have been infected with coronavirus,” warned Abbasi to nervous laughter from his fellow lawmakers. “The truth is… this virus spreads exponentially,” he said. “This is a public health emergency and the Opposition will support the government in dealing with this crisis,” he added.
Abbasi said that while the whole country needs to focus on combating the virus, the government chose to arrest Mir Shakilur Rehman, the editor-in-chief of Jang Media Group. He said the government “should focus on coronavirus for the next few weeks instead of political victimization.”
Similar to Abbasi, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party said the country had not acted in time. “The whole of Italy has been quarantined and tawaf has been stopped at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia. In such circumstances, we demand imposition of state of emergency in the country,” he said, adding Islamabad should seriously consider shutting all airports in the country for “at least two weeks.”
Reacting to the criticism, Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood urged the opposition not to use the issue for “political point-scoring.” He claimed the situation in China was now improving and criticized Sindh province for shutting schools and announcing a public health emergency before the National Security Committee had met to discuss the situation.
Pakistan has 21 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus so far, with Sindh province being the worst affected with 15 patients. Of the remaining six, five are from Gilgit-Baltistan and one from Balochistan. The latest case to be diagnosed in Sindh is the first case of local spread, with the patient having no recent international travel history and having moved between Islamabad and Karachi just two days prior to his diagnosis.