–PM’s aide says financial package will mitigate economic impacts of coronavirus, warns against hoarding
–ISPR DG says cooperating with civil admin, comprehensive strategy in place
–Pakistan shuts down Wagah border; Punjab, Balochistan suspend public transport with Sindh
ISLAMABAD: The total number of coronavirus cases in the country reached 453 after over 100 cases were reported in all parts of the country on Thursday, with the federal government appealing to people to maintain social distancing and avoid hoarding basic commodities.
A patient has also recovered from the deadly virus in Sindh, making the total number of such recoveries to three.
As part of its efforts to contain the spread of the virus, the Sindh government has decided to convert the Karachi Expo Centre into a 10,000-bed hospital for corona patients in addition to sanctioning an Rs7.21 billion grant to fight the threat.
In a meeting of the provincial task force on coronavirus, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah also directed the relevant authorities to distribute 2 million grocery bags among needy families. He observed that people seem worried about food availability in view of a partial lockdown in the city. In the first phase, one month’s worth of grocery items will be distributed. The grocery bags will include flour, rice, three kinds of pulses, ghee, sugar, tea bags, dry milk, and spices.
Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar said that the provincial government allocated funds worth Rs5 billion in order to curtail the risk of the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). CM Buzdar went on to say that a centre in Taftan will be established by the Punjab government and added that the provincial government will also build 1,000-bed temporary field hospital.
‘NO SHORTAGE OF FOOD’:
As cases see a gradual rise, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza held a press conference at the Corona Command and Control Centre in Islamabad along with Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) chief Major General Babar Iftikhar and Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan.
During the presser, Dr Mirza said that Pakistan was seeking China’s help to curb the pandemic and the first video conference with the Chinese experts will take place in a day or two.
He praised the provincial governments for “cooperating” with the Centre on the timely information regarding the outbreak. “All the governments are playing an active role in curbing the virus,” he added.
“PM Imran in his speech focused on social distancing. We need to implement that as soon as possible,” he noted, adding, “The majority of the reported cases (in Pakistan) are imported.”
Mirza, encapsulating the rapid spread of the disease in the world and specifically in Pakistan, said, “The pandemic has spread to over 176 countries registered with the United Nations and nearly 220,000 people have been infected, whereas in Pakistan there are 326 confirmed cases.”
“We do not need to be obsessive about the number as there are thousands of confirmed coronavirus cases in other countries,” he added.
He expressed grief over the death of the two coronavirus patients who died in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) a day earlier.
The health adviser also informed the media that in the next press conference, only PTV would record the briefing and make it available to other media channels. He also urged people not to go unnecessarily to hospital OPDs and “if it is necessary to go there, the patient should go alone”.
Firdous told reporters that the government would launch a ‘financial stimulus package’ to mitigate the economic impact of coronavirus on people, especially daily wage workers. She said that the package will soon be presented to the prime minister for formal approval.
She said a committee has been constituted under the chairmanship of the Finance Adviser Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh to devise a plan to avoid an economic slowdown in the country.
Firdous said that directions have been given to provincial governments to take stern action against those elements who attempt to hoard food and create an artificial shortage of edible items.
Addressing the press conference, Pakistan Army’s spokesperson General Iftikhar said that the military was cooperating with the civil administration to curb the outbreak. “The army chief has directed all formations to inspect risk assessments at district and tehsil level and help civil administration tackle the pandemic,” he said.
“We are helping the governments with quarantine facilities as well,” he said, adding, “We are stationed at all the entry points; there is a comprehensive strategy in place.”
The Peshawar, Sialkot, Quetta, Faisalabad, and Multan airports will be operational from March 21 and the army and Rangers personnel will help the civil administration there as well, he said. All the medical resources of the armed forces are being prepared for an emergency situation, said Gen Iftikhar.
The army spokesperson said that the army’s scientists were working to develop a sanitiser to tackle the pandemic. The ISPR along with health and information ministry has drafted a “crisis and risk communication strategy” in light of the world’s best practices, he said.
“A national command and control centre has been formed along with all stakeholders including the army, to provide people with timely updates. We are using TV, radio, social media and other platforms to spread awareness,” he said.
WAGAH BORDER SEALED:
The Ministry of Interior, meanwhile, announced the closure of Wagah border crossing with India, initially for a period of two weeks as a precautionary measure.
A notification, issued by the interior ministry, directed the relevant authority for “complete sealing of Wagah border for an initial period of two weeks (14 days) with immediate effect in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in the best interest of both countries”.
NA SESSION SOUGHT:
The opposition in the National Assembly (NA) on Thursday submitted a requisition in the NA Secretariat for convening an immediate session to discuss the prevailing coronavirus situation in the country. According to the official document, 92 opposition members of the House have endorsed the demand for the emergency session.
BALOCHISTAN, PUNJAB SUSPEND INTER-CITY TRANSPORT:
Meanwhile, Punjab and Balochistan governments have temporarily suspended inter-provincial transport services with Sindh.
The Punjab Transport Authority (PTA), during a meeting, decided to suspend inter-city traffic heading towards Sindh to curb the potential spread of coronavirus.
Similarly, the Balochistan government has also suspended inter-city bus services and public transport in Quetta and other parts of the province for 15 days. The decision was taken during a meeting chaired by the Balochistan Chief Secretary Captain (r) Fazeel Asghar.