In press conference, prime minister says government will take action if mosques do not follow safety precautions agreed with ulema
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said Pakistan is an “independent nation” and it cannot force worshippers to pray at home instead of mosques amid mounting criticism of the government’s decision to reopen mosques as the confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country continue to soar.
In a press conference convened to apprise people about the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Khan said the war against coronavirus was being fought by the whole nation. “It will not differentiate between the rich and the poor. It can happen to anyone,” he said. “If we install police outside mosques and throw worshippers in mosques, independent nations do not behave like this,” he added, perhaps ignoring that the government has done exactly this to doctors who were protesting for personal protective equipment; to teachers who were demanding payment of their salaries; to activists demanding justice for ‘missing persons’; and to journalists, to name but a few instances of the heavy-handed tactics employed by the state in the recent past.
According to the prime minister, ulema have signed a 20-point agreement with President Arif Alvi on the preventative measures that would be implemented by mosques. These conditions have to be obeyed by everyone who prays at mosques, he said. “I urge Pakistanis to stay at home and pray,” he said, adding that other Muslim nations had done the same. What he did not mention was that other countries have closed their mosques and outright banned any congregational prayers from taking place to curb the spread of COVID-19. “But if you go to mosques, keep this in mind: You will have to obey these conditions,” he said, adding that if the SOPs were not followed, and coronavirus cases surge in Ramzan, the government would be forced to “take back its decision.”
Also on Tuesday, Khan referred to his decision to reopen several sectors of the economy despite rising cases of the coronavirus nationwide, claiming several countries were considering measures that would balance protecting people and ensuring economic activity. “A debate has started in countries to ease or lift lockdown and at the same time, save people from the coronavirus,” he said, adding that Pakistan had thus far seen less than 200 deaths while countries with 500-600 deaths were easing restrictions.
“An indefinite lockdown is not possible for any society,” he said, warning that no one knew when the threat of the coronavirus would end.
According to Khan, his government had decided to revive economic activities by opening the labor- and crowd-intensive construction sector. “Keeping in mind Pakistan’s dismal economic conditions, our priority is to bring our people out of poverty,” he said. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had earlier this week warned that recovering the economy was a task that could be accomplished—albeit with difficulty—but bringing people back from the dead was not in anyone’s skillset.
Khan, during his press conference, also announced that the government had set up an Ehsaas Ration portal to allow multinational companies and generous people an opportunity to help the poor. He also clarified that the Corona Relief Tiger Force would not receive any funding and lamented that it was being politicized.
Khan being tested
Dr. Faisal Sultan, CEO of the Shaukat Khanum Memorical Cancer Hospital, told the press that the prime minister had agreed to be tested for COVID-19 after receiving confirmation that philanthropist Faisal Edhi had tested positive for the virus a week after meeting Khan. He also said that authorities expected the total COVID-19 infections in Pakistan to reach 12,000-15,000 by the end of this month—nine days from now, and against the current tally of 9,500.
Industries Minister Hammad Azhar, meanwhile, said the government would unveil a large package to the National Coordination Committee tomorrow (Wednesday). Upon its approval by the NCC and the federal cabinet, he said, it would be advertised in media and would seek to help people who have lost their jobs due to the lockdowns. He said another package was being developed for electricity tariffs, adding that small- and medium-businesses with commercial meters would benefit from it.
According to Azhar, the government is also working with the State Bank of Pakistan to introduce a scheme of loans for people who do not have any collateral to offer.
Special Assistant to the P.M. on National Security Moeed Yusuf said the Torkham and Chaman border crossings had been reopened and Pakistanis stranded in Afghanistan had started returning home. He said the border with India remained closed, but some Pakistanis have returned from there as well. As soon as the border with India reopens, more Pakistanis would be able to return, he added.