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‘Pakistan Cannot Have Another Lockdown’

by Newsweek Pakistan

In address to Tiger Force, P.M. Imran Khan tells them they will help in fight against locusts, tree plantation drive

Pakistan cannot undergo another lockdown, as the country’s economy cannot sustain it, Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a nationally televised briefing intended for his volunteer Corona Relief Tiger Force.

“We need you to spread awareness about the need for the SOPs,” he said. “I genuinely believe that if we fully adopt all SOPs even now, then we will not pass through the kind of difficult time other countries have gone through,” he added.

The prime minister claimed, without offering any evidence, that no cases of the coronavirus had been traced back to mosques. “We were the only country in the Muslim world that said we would not suspend taravih prayers and would keep mosques open. We decided that whoever goes there would have to follow SOPs,” he said.

Without acknowledging the numerous reports of SOP violations in mosques nationwide, the prime minister said the Tiger Force had helped to ensure SOPs were being adopted in Sialkot. “There weren’t enough police officials in Sialkot to stop the public from going to mosques so our Tiger Force went and raised awareness,” he said. “Our critics said that the virus will spread from mosques [but] we did not see any cases emerge from there and today the world is opening mosques with standard operating procedures in place. This was an achievement for the Force,” he claimed.

Rising toll

“In Pakistan, I am sorry to say, we now have over 1,700 deaths. We always knew the coronavirus would spread,” he said. “We have to understand corona is a virus that spreads when people gather so that is why we need to maintain social distancing,” he said, as the current epicenter of the virus in Pakistan—Punjab province—has allowed public transporters to operate at 100 percent capacity in complete violation of any social distancing norms.

The prime minister said either he, or Usman Dar would issue daily instructions to the Tiger Force on the issues they needed to address. “We will regularly give instructions on what you need to do, what the hotspots are [and] we will guide you,” he said.

“The virus will spread, you can’t stop that. You can lock people up in their rooms and that would slow the spread but it will not end it,” he said, ignoring the countries that have successfully managed to curb the spread of the virus by doing just that including Italy, Spain, China, Vietnam.

“If we can slow down the [infection] curve because of SOPs, it will reduce pressure on hospitals,” said Khan, claiming he was aware of the pressures being faced by doctors. “But doctors across the world are under pressure. We have not forgotten you,” he said.

Difficult situation

Khan said the country had been emerging from a difficult situation before the pandemic hit. “In the upcoming budget, we have to cut costs while raising our revenue,” he said, or risk economic disaster. “The purpose of reopening industries was to help the vulnerable. A lockdown for [the privileged] is not a problem, but it is a problem for the working class,” he said, again not factoring in that if the disease spreads widely, the same impoverished would be unable to continue earning livelihoods as they would be unable to work while sick.

“How much more money can Ehsaas give? We provided a massive relief package, but that was not enough. It just helped up prevent a massive calamity during our lockdown,” he said, adding that countries like the U.S.—“the richest country in the world”—had seen lines of people waiting to get food and Pakistan was lucky to have avoided that.

Identification cards

The prime minister said the members of the Force would be issued special identification cards so they could freely travel to viral hotspots—“which might need to be shut down if cases continue to spiral”—and distribute food to those who need it. “These will also allow district administrators to recognize you are members of the Tiger Force,” he added.

He said that in addition to the fight against the coronavirus, the Tiger Force would also help in the fight against an ongoing locust invasion, though he did not clarify what this aid would entail.

“Secondly, I want you to embrace our Clean and Green Pakistan initiative,” he said. “You can help us plant trees to combat climate change—not only in the rural areas, but also by identifying areas in cities that can be utilized for tree plantation,” he added.

Finally, said the prime minister, the Tiger Force would also help “keep an eye” on Utility Stores, which they have already been tasked to monitor since Ramzan. “Transport services were shut down due to the lockdown and food prices skyrocketed as a result. However, we kept up supply to Utility Stores and got some very good feedback from the volunteers,” he claimed.

He said the volunteers would ensure prices were within reasonable limits, as well as checking that no one was hoarding stocks to artificially inflate prices. “Tell us who’s following SOPs and who isn’t and then the administration will take action,” he said. “The real purpose you have is to keep our people protected and to help them. We will keep briefing you on further duties,” he added.

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