ISLAMABAD: In wake of the spread of novel coronavirus pandemic across the country, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced to form a “Corona Relief Tigers Force”.
Talking to senior media persons in Islamabad on Thursday, he said that the government need young people to fight the pandemic, adding that the registration for the “Corona Relief Tigers Force” will commence from March 31.
Giving example of China’s lockdown of its city Wuhan, the prime minister said that the Chinese government provided food at the door step after implementing a lockdown.
Imran Khan said that nine people have lost their lives due to coronavirus pandemic, adding that nothing could be said about the situation is in Pakistan after 2 weeks.
The premier while expressing optimism that war against Coronavirus will be won with united resolve of the nation, said total lockdown is not feasible keeping in view the condition of poor people in the country.
He said today all four provinces, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan collectively decided that there will be no inter-province restriction on transportation of goods.
Similarly, industry allied with edible items will also be free from any kind of restriction. However, passenger traffic will remain off the roads.
The Prime Minister also announced establishment of a fund for Coronavirus. He said he will open an account in the State Bank of Pakistan next week where donations from overseas Pakistanis will be collected to steer the country out of economic crisis.
On Tuesday, in an effort to provide economic relief to the already suffering people amid coronavirus outbreak, the premier announced a major cut in fuel prices and a package of Rs1200 billion for the different sectors of economy.
He said that the government will help the poor in difficult times, adding that the impression of a lockdown is being given in the country.
The prime minister said that chaos is being spread across the country, adding that the one of the biggest risks is making the wrong decisions in fear of the spread of coronavirus.
It is possible that by making the wrong decisions, the society is destroyed, he said. “Before imposing curfew, we need to think about the poor people whether we have the resources to feed poor people at home,” he said.
Main Points of economic package
Labour Class: The premier said that the government had decided to allocate Rs200 billion for the labour class, which had been hit hard in the difficult times.
Tax Refund: To help the industrial sector and especially the export sector, it was decided to release tax refunds amounting to Rs100 billion, besides, deferring of the interest payment to bolster this sector, he added.
SMEs and Industry: For the small and medium industry, and agriculture sector, another amount of Rs100 billion was set aside with deferred interest payment, the prime minister said, adding concessional loans would also being extended to the sectors. The government wanted to bring down the input costs for the farmers.
Food and Petroleum: Other packages, he said, included additional amount of 50 billion for the Utility Stores, Rs280 billion for the wheat procurement, slashing of petrol and diesel prices by Rs15 per liter for which the government would have to bear the burden of Rs75 billion.
Emergency Situation: An amount of Rs100 billion was allocated separately for the emergency situation, he added.
NDMA, Construction and Medical: The prime minister said power consumers using 300 units and gas users with Rs2,000 monthly bills would be facilitated to deposit their bills through three monthly installments. A sum of Rs50 billion was also allocated for the medical staff. The National Disaster Management Authority would get Rs25 billion for purchase and procuring of kits, he announced.
Vulnerable Families: Imran Khan said for the vulnerable families who were bearing the brunt of the difficult time, it was decided to allocate an amount of Rs150 billion for a period of four months. He said they were also expanding the network of Panagah (shelter houses) where the precautionary measures had been strictly practiced.
Construction Industry: For the construction industry, the government would announce a separate package within days, which, he promised, had never been witnessed in the country’s history.Reiterating that the country could not afford a complete lockdown with the imposition of curfew, the prime minister said the situation in the country so far did not warrant for resorting to that last step.
However, he added, the government would review the situation after a couple of weeks. The provincial governments after the 18th Constitutional Amendment could take their decisions while the role of the Federal Government was only that of an advisory, he replied to a query.
The federal government, he said, could only give guidelines but could not direct the provinces against their decisions. The provincial governments could react to a situation, but should also give consideration to the evolving situation.
“God forbids, nobody knows the evolving situation, which might also compel us for the imposition of curfew after two weeks,” he added.
Advisor to the PM on Finance Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Minister for Food Security Khusru Bakhtiar, Advisor to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, and NDMA Chairman Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal were also present on the occasion.
Comparing the situation in Spain, Italy, France and other European countries, the prime minister said with about 900 cases in Pakistan, the government team had been taking cognizance of the evolving situation regularly.
PM Imran said that enforcing a curfew would lead to complete halting of transport, which could badly affect the food and medical supplies, adding that such steps could have strong damaging affects upon the society and economy, especially on the downtrodden or the poor class, who had been living in clusters in the Katchi Abadis.
The prime minister differentiating between the lockdown and curfew also shared his concerns that the evolving situation of the COVID 19 outbreak could stretch over to six months.
“Whatever decisions the government take, I am fully responsible for them. All the economic decisions are being taken with consensus of my economic team,” he added.
To another question, he regretted that the economic situation had been improving in the country as the macroeconomic indicators witnessed rising, but the COVID 19 outbreak cast unintended consequences upon the economy. The year 2019 had been the most difficult time of his life, he added.
The prime minister, to a question, replied that in case of emergency, the country would require a volunteer force comprising the youth, besides creation of funds. The youth and overseas Pakistanis would be tapped in such like scenario.
Dilating upon the issue of complete lockdown, he further regretted that a confusion and impression had been created in the country. Taking wrong decisions at the current critical stage were more dangerous than the spread of coronavirus, he warned.
The prime minister said the government was extra cautious in taking certain steps, which should benefit the country and the nation. During the first National Security Committee meeting, when the country had reported just 21 cases, the gradual lockdown started with the closure of the schools, besides stoppage of public gatherings.
In the past, decisions were taken for the interests of selected elite class and there were different systems for different classes, he said and regretted that the same response was being also witnessed in the country over the coronavirus.
The prime minister said it was a collective fight of the humanity and a single government could not fight it alone.
The public response to the government’s measures like those witnessed in China was vital for achieving the objectives, he stressed and urged the nation to fully cooperate with the government’s calls to control the spread of pathogen.