Defending government’s response to COVID-19 pandemic in Senate, Shah Mahmood Qureshi says there is clear policy in place
Warning that a global recession is looming in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday said it would inevitably have a huge impact on Pakistan.
Addressing a special session of the Senate convened to deliberate on the country’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the foreign minister said it was predicted the global economy would contract by 3 percent. “It amounts to trillions of dollars and it will have a huge impact on Pakistan. Our exports have [already] decreased by 40 percent. There is a danger of layoffs [of Pakistani migrants] in Gulf states, remittances might go down by 20 to 23 percent,” he added.
The foreign minister said lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 were a “temporary solution” and were only meant to flatten the curve, not erase it. “The real solution is a vaccine but that will take time… we have to see how we can control the spread of the virus,” he said.
He said the government had formulated a national strategy with the input of all stakeholders, including the opposition, to combat the virus. “There is no confusion, the policy is clear,” he said, adding that the prime minister is working day and night to fight the war on COVID-19.
The lawmaker said a united front was necessary to surmount the challenge posed by coronavirus. He said the government has to protect the people from coronavirus, poverty and starvation and with its struggling economy, cannot sustain a prolonged lockdown. Despite this, he claimed, the government had launched a stimulus package of Rs. 1.2 trillion—though this includes routine operations such as wheat procurement, which are hardly “relief measures” exclusive to the COVID-19 response.
Referring to the situation in India-held Jammu and Kashmir, the foreign minister warned Delhi had intensified its persecution of Kashmiri people.
Earlier, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman slammed the government’s response to the coronavirus, stating that it appeared the P.M. was no longer even running the country. She said the government should stop comparing the situation in Pakistan to other states, claiming we should not repeat their mistakes. The government has created confusion by pitting “lives versus livelihood,” she said. “Lives always come first!”
She said given the current crisis, the focus of the 2020-21 budget should be on ensuring the safety and protection of the people and not growth.
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, meanwhile, said the federal and provincial governments should be on the same page to contain the spread of coronavirus. Opposing relaxation in lockdown at this juncture, he said it was clear each easing had resulted in a spike in COVID-19 cases.
PMLN Senator Javed Abbasi, also, criticized the government for lifting the lockdown when the virus was spreading faster. He said the country’s healthcare system would not be able to cope with an increasing number of cases, adding the government acted too late to restrict international travel.
Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, meanwhile, slammed the meager financial assistance provided to lower-income people, saying Rs. 3,000 was insufficient for families to survive an entire month. He also suggested the government abolishes the interest rate to courage borrowing from banks.
The senator also claimed that no country in the world had shown such “non-seriousness” in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as Pakistan, and criticized the federal government for creating confusion by giving “mixed messages.”
PMLN Senator Musadiq Malik claimed the government appeared to have decided to proceed for “herd immunity” by lifting the lockdown. “It means that after 60-70 percent are infected, and many people are dead, those who have survived will turn the wheel of the economy,” he said. “But graveyards do not have an economic wheel,” he added.
The Senate session commenced with the house offered funeral prayers for those who have died due to the coronavirus, and the soldiers martyred in Kech. Prayers were also offered for the early recovery of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, including National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser.