Despite rising cases, P.M. Khan announces series of exemptions that can potentially lead to coronavirus spread
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday announced that the government was extending by two weeks the ongoing nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, though several industries, including the construction sector, will be granted exemptions to resume operations.
“Owing to the restrictions imposed, the virus did not spread according to our projections,” said Khan alongside members of the federal cabinet, as he said schools, shopping malls, restaurants would remain shut. “It only spread to around 30 percent of our projections,” he claimed.
Because the virus has not spread as virulently in Pakistan as other countries, said Khan, the government had decided to reopen several industries. “We are going to reopen the construction industry from tomorrow,” he said, adding that certain Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) would be adopted to ensure this did not result in the virus spreading.
Neither Khan, nor any of his cabinet members, provided the SOPs the government has allegedly formulated to ensure there is no risk of COVID-19 spreading. Industries Minister Hammad Azhar said that Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had agreed to the center’s proposals to reopen various sectors. “Other provinces had different opinions,” he said. The only remaining province is Sindh, where C.M. Murad Ali Shah has repeatedly called for a stricter, not laxer, lockdown.
According to the prime minister, Pakistan’s projections had 190 people dying from the coronavirus by this point in time. “We have less than half the number of deaths from the projected number,” he said, though he did not mention the low testing rates in Pakistan, which all experts say are preventing the country from securing a concrete idea of how the virus is spreading here.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he would soon meet religious scholars to formulate a plan ahead of Ramzan for how citizens can observe the holy month and pray during it without risking COVID-19 spreading further.
The prime minister also announced that the biggest threat to Pakistan at this stage was from hoarding and smuggling, especially ahead of the holy month of Ramzan. “We will soon issue an ordinance to take stringent action against anyone found smuggling or hoarding goods,” he said, adding that there were also a lot of people smuggling U.S. dollars out of the country.
After Khan’s briefing, he asked Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza to update people on the situation concerning the spread of coronavirus. Mirza claimed that it was too soon to gauge if the ongoing lockdowns have proven successful—and then alleged that Sindh, despite more stringent lockdowns, was faring worse than the rest of the country in terms of new infections. He made this claim while Punjab is reporting 2,881 cases and Sindh is reporting 1,518.
After Mirza, Planning Minister Asad Umar took center stage and sought to dismiss the perception that there was no coordination between the center and the provincial governments. “Experienced people have told me that we have had a more coordinated response to this emergency than at any other similar point in Pakistan’s history,” he said.
According to Azhar, the industries that have been deemed ‘low risk’ and allowed to reopen are:
- Chemical manufacturing plants
- Software development and programming
- Paper and paper packaging units
- Cement plants
- Fertilizer plants
- Glass manufacturing units
- Veterinary service industry
- Export related industries
- Stationary shops
P.M.’s Special Assistant on National Security Moeed Yusuf then informed the public that there were plans to reopen six airports by April 20, adding that this would help bring stranded Pakistanis back home. However, he said, that care would be taken to ensure no cases of the virus were brought to Pakistan.
Summing up, the prime minister urged people to continue to be mindful. “We have to strike a balancing act,” he said, adding that every decision being taken by the government right now carried risks.
“If the situation worsens in the next two weeks, we could decide to shut some of the exempted industries again,” he warned, urging people to exercise care and take preventative measures against coronavirus.
Khan also said that the biggest problem facing the government was ensuring that the daily wagers in the country were taken care of. “This is why restoring the construction industry is so important,” he said, adding that the government would tomorrow (Wednesday) issue an ordinance that would provide the industry with a greater stimulus package than had ever been seen in Pakistan’s history.
Pakistan now has 5,812 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 100 deaths and 1,378 recoveries.