Pakistan’s prime minister tells public it is their responsibility to prevent coronavirus from spreading by adopting SOPs
Rejecting the Punjab government’s call to impose a full lockdown in provincial capital Lahore—which has become the new epicenter of the virus, with almost 50 percent of all confirmed cases in the province—Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday once again backed his administration’s questionable “smart lockdown” to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“After analyzing with my Punjab team today, [we’ve decided] we will not do full lockdown but will do selective lockdown and seal hotspots,” he said in a press briefing from Lahore, claiming that the country’s administration and police did not have the capacity to achieve a complete lockdown.
Reiterating concerns he has already expressed in previous speeches, the prime minister said that in poor South Asian countries such as Pakistan, the burden of a lockdown would have to fall on impoverished citizens who rely on daily wages. “We already have so many people on the brink of poverty,” he said. “This would push them over. For countries like us, the only option is a smart lockdown so that the burden doesn’t fall on poor people,” he added, while not mentioning how extensive research has determined that the socioeconomic class most impacted by the virus are the same impoverished, who can also avoid testing over fears of the stigma attached to COVID-19.
The prime minister again urged the public to strictly follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the government to curb the spread of the coronavirus, saying as a first step everyone must start wearing face masks. “It’s important to understand the consequences of not following the SOPs. If, for example, people in a factory do not follow the SOPs, we will shut it down. And then the poor will lose their income,” he said, once again focusing solely on the economic impact of the coronavirus and not its much more pressing impact on public health.
Referring to India once more, Khan said the neighboring nation’s lockdown has resulted in the government struggling to balance feeding the poor and stemming the spread of the virus. “We wanted to avoid an India-like scenario but we must all follow SOPs,” he said. Similarly referring to the U.S., which continues to report more than 2,000 deaths due to the coronavirus daily, the prime minister claimed—incorrectly—that the duration of Pakistan’s lockdown had been just as long as that of New York. The duration of “full lockdown” in Pakistan was one month; New York’s lasted for 3 months.
“New York’s mayor, the city which is the wealthiest in the world, is saying that it is going bankrupt,” said Khan, claiming that if such a disastrous situation was prevailing in the U.S. city, “then even worse could happen in Pakistan?”
The prime minister warned that if the public did not fully and strictly adopt SOPs, the country would enter a very tough phase. “If we are permitting you to resume activities then it is your responsibility to follow the guidelines,” he said, adding that it was unfortunate that so many people appeared to believe the virus was a hoax or had no bearing on their life. “The Tiger Force will help us to change this,” said Khan. He claimed the volunteers of the government’s Corona Relief Tiger Force would go into areas with large numbers of infections and SOP violation, and report the issues being encountered to civil administration. “The Tiger Force will use an app to report violations of SOPs and we will act on their complaints,” he said. This was echoed by Punjab Finance Minister Hashim Jawan Bakht, who claimed every country that had successfully overcome the virus had done so by availing the help of volunteers to aid in public awareness.
Khan said it was time for the Corona Relief Tiger Force to recruit more volunteers, claiming the current 225,000 (as reported by Usman Dar during the press briefing) might prove insufficient in the days to come. “The government cannot handle all the work required so the Tiger Force must help it,” said Khan. He said the volunteers would submit reports about SOP violations to a central app, which would compile it into a database that would be personally monitored by him.
“How bad things get is entirely the public’s responsibility,” warned the prime minister, reiterating his calls to adopt SOPs. “I always said the pandemic wasn’t over; we just lifted lockdowns because of the economy,” he added.
“We have to take care because we are endangering health workers, elderly and those with preexisting conditions [if we don’t follow SOPs],” said the prime minister, adding that in the coming days he would personally visit and review the SOP enforcement of every province and take steps to ensure the virus did not spread unchecked.
Addressing the briefing, Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid claimed that there were currently 3,055 COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals across the province. “Of these, 215 are critical patients and 193 are on ventilators,” she said, adding that 540 ventilators had been dedicated to the COVID response, and the remaining 347 were currently free.
Admitting that Lahore is a “different situation,” Rashid said that the city had around 197 ventilators available in public-sector hospitals, and 104 in private-sector. She claimed the city had sufficient capacity for 7-10 days at current rates of infection, adding an estimated 30-40 percent of hospitals across Punjab were currently vacant and there was greater pressure on hospitals in cities.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, the prime minister’s focal person on coronavirus, claimed the government had created “modern and sophisticated” software to help identify viral hotspots so the government could effectively enforce “smart lockdown” measures.
Pakistan’s confirmed cases of coronavirus climbed to 132,405 on Saturday, with 2,551 deaths and 50,056 recoveries. There are currently 79,798 active cases of the disease nationwide.