–PM says not a single COVID-19 case was imported from China, calls for national unity to fight virus
—Shehbaz, Bilawal walk out of online moot after Imran leaves session without hearing them
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday called for unity among all segments of the society, including the political parties, to fight and win the war against coronavirus (COVID-19) as a nation, however, his move to go offline without hearing the speeches of the major opposition leaders saw the meeting of the parliamentary leaders of various political parties through video-link end on a bad note.
“The government alone cannot fight and win this war against Coronavirus. We can win this war together as a nation,” Imran said during his online speech, as he briefed the parliamentary leaders about the measures taken by the government since the outbreak of coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year, and particularly after the arrival of pilgrims from Iran via Taftan border.
He gave an overview of the government’s response against COVID-19, including the establishment of a quarantine centre and a make-shift screening facility at Taftan, a remote area located 700 kilometres from Quetta.
PM Imran said that since the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have governments in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Kashmir and Kashmir (AJK) and Sindh, therefore, it is vital for all parties to sit together to take effective decisions against COVID-19.
He said that the government’s decision not to bring its students back from Wuhan, despite the pressure from parents and media, went well in terms of checking the transmission of coronavirus from China to Pakistan.
“However, after the outbreak of coronavirus in Iran, they did not have the capacity like that of China to tackle COVID-19, Pakistani pilgrims had to travel back to Pakistan through Taftan border,” he said.
Giving the figures of COVID-19 patients in Pakistan, he said, it was a good omen that only 153 out of a total of around 900 Coronavirus patients as of March 24, were those who had contracted the virus locally.
The prime minister recalled that when there were only 21 coronavirus cases in Pakistan, the government summoned the meetings of National Security Committee (NSC) and National Coordination Committee (NCC) and decided to go for initial lockdown through closure of educational institutions, suspension of sports activities, suspension of March 23 parade and other gatherings.
He said that though he was opposed to the idea of complete lockdown for certain reasons, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) and Punjab, which had the authority under 18th Amendment, subsequently went for lockdown, including the suspension of transport.
The prime minister said that as no country in the world initially opted for complete lockdown, confusion on this issue still persisted in Pakistan.
“We should not go for complete lockdown,” he said and viewed that the suspension of transport could hurt supply chain and cause shortage of essential items, including food and petroleum products.
The prime minister said that with GB already facing the shortage of petroleum products, the suspension of transport could also affect the vital economic activities like the harvesting of wheat crop and industrial production and cause unemployment.
He further mentioned that the government had to intervene to get the port opened on Tuesday after the supply of pulses stopped due to the closure of port.
The prime minister said that as there was a continuous worldwide debate on the issue of lockdown, all the stakeholders in Pakistan including the political parties, should also debate the issue and re-assess the situation periodically.
“When decisions are taken under fear and pressure, these affect the society,” he remarked and mentioned that 25 per cent of the country’s population was living below the poverty line.
He said that all such issues, including lockdown, and particularly the suspension of transport, would be discussed in the meeting of NCC on Thursday.
He said that if Pakistan had to go for a complete lockdown and curfew, the government would have to supply food to people at their doorsteps especially those living in slums and temporary settlements.
The prime minister said that he would soon announce a programme of volunteers, who would work for supplying food to people at their doorsteps.
Reiterating that the biggest challenge during a lockdown would be to ensure the well-being of daily wagers and those living below the poverty line, the prime minister said the federal government will “reassess and discuss and come up with solutions”.
Speaking on the occasion, Special Assistant on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza said there are 1,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far in the country.
He said 78 per cent cases of COVID-19 had come from Iran and only five per cent of cases were locally transmitted.
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal said that the government has released 26 billion rupees for acquiring necessary equipment and other things to fight COVID-19.
He said that 500 ventilators, injections, masks, and other things will be acquired to meet the needs in wake of the pandemic.
He said that about half million masks, including 50,000 N-95 masks have reached Karachi.
SHEHBAZ, BILAWAL PROTEST PM’S ABSENCE:
Following the conclusion of Dr Mirza and NDMA chief’s speech, Shehbaz asked whether the prime minister was present in the meeting.
When National Assembly (NA) Speaker Asad Qaiser informed him that the premier had left, Shehbaz said that he would not remain in the meeting if “this is the level of seriousness being shown by the prime minister”.
“We are currently dealing with the greatest pandemic to hit Pakistan in its entire history and we are not here to do politics. But if this is the level of seriousness of the government, I cannot continue this,” he added.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also protested against the PM’s action and walkout of the online session.
Shehbaz tweeted after the meeting that he was disappointed by the PM’s “intentional absence” from the meeting. “It seems he is still not ready to listen to the opposition and the whole country just saw the seriousness of its chief executive. I was left with no option but to walk out in protest,” Shehbaz wrote.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi condemned the actions of Shehbaz and Bilawal, saying that all political parties should be presenting a united front in the current situation amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He said Shehbaz Sharif should act maturely. He said a walk out doesn’t send out the right message to the public.