In press conference, Murad Ali Shah calls on P.M. Khan to evolve national consensus on coronavirus response
Defending his government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Monday urged the federal government to announce two more weeks of stricter movement restrictions to curb the spread of the disease.
“I have been advised by experts that [at the rate cases are currently being reported] we need a stricter lockdown for at least two more weeks,” he told a press conference in Karachi. He said this decision should come from the federal government, as he urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to “lead from the front” in all decision-making regarding the COVID-19 threat.
“All the provinces have informed the prime minister that we will follow his directions on how best to respond to the coronavirus threat,” said Shah. “But we need you [P.M. Khan] to take a decision, any decision,” he added. He said Sindh, or any province, could not fight against coronavirus alone and needed a collective policy to tackle the outbreak.
Earlier, Shah said the Sindh government had been the first to implement a lockdown in the province after observing what other countries were doing to curb the spread of coronavirus. “This is not a provincial or state-level crisis, right now, the entire world is gripped by the crisis. We consulted with global experts to tackle the situation,” he said.
The Sindh chief minister admitted that the provincial government had made some mistakes, “we’ve all made mistakes,” but said the authorities were learning and striving to fix their errors. “When the first case emerged on Feb. 26, we held a comprehensive meeting the next day that was attended by people from the government as well as representatives from the private sector,” he said, adding that shopping centers, parks, cinemas etc. were gradually closed to avoid panic. “The biggest mistake of all would have been not taking measures at the moment,” he said.
Shah said he had informed the federal government of Sindh’s concerns during the first meeting of the National Coordination Committee on COVID-19, and had advised a complete nationwide lockdown. “My advice was ignored back then,” he said, adding that it was heartening that the federal government had announced a two-week extension earlier this month after the provincial government had recommended the same.
The Sindh C.M. also criticized the process of cash disbursement for the impoverished under the Ehsaas Program, saying it had resulted in large crowds of people gathering to collect funds. “What is the purpose of lockdowns if large groups of people are going to gather anyway?” he said, adding that the government had strived to deliver ration bags to people’s homes to avoid this.
Shah said it was no denying that Pakistan’s economy had suffered due to the lockdowns. “But at the end of the day, we can eventually fix our economy… we cannot bring back the dead,” he said, adding that if the virus starts spreading in the rural areas, it would be very difficult to control it due to the country’s meager resources.
Responding to criticisms from members of the ruling PTI, the Sindh C.M. said the province had not taken any money from the P.M.’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. “We have generated our own funds. The data is available on the website with details of the donors. We have collected funds from our employees who willingly contributed,” he said, adding that despite this the province had a severe shortage of medical supplies. “When we try to procure supplies from abroad, they tell us to have the federal government contact them. We hope the center will facilitate us,” he said.
Defending the province’s testing for COVID-19, Shah said WHO officials had told him that Sindh was the only province in Pakistan that was administering tests according to the global health body’s guidelines. He said around 90 percent of the tests thus far conducted in the province had been done for free.
Sindh currently has 1,441 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 30 deaths and 419 recoveries. Nationally, Pakistan has 5,400 cases with the majority in Punjab province. Of these, 1,095 have fully recovered.