–Punjab reports one more death as national tally reaches 1,200 amid countrywide lockdowns
–Only mosques’ admin staff and limited number of worshippers will be allowed to pray inside mosques
—Govt dismisses reports of wheat flour shortage, warns of stern action against hoarders
ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday decided to prolong the closure of all educational institutions in the country till May 31, and ‘restrain’ Friday congregational prayers, as the national tally of coronavirus patients hit 1,200 with one more death reported in Punjab amid lockdowns across Pakistan.
As of Thursday evening, Sindh has reported 421 cases, whereas Punjab ranks second with at least 405 cases after it confirmed 70 new cases of coronavirus. A total of 9 people have so far been reported dead due to the virus.
According to the Punjab health department, 207 cases pilgrims in Dera Ghazi Khan, 22 in Multan, 103 people in Lahore, 22 in Gujrat, 8 in Gujranwala, 19 in Jhelum, 12 in Rawalpindi, 3 in Faisalabad, 2 in Mandi Bahauddin, 1 in Narowal, 2 in Mianwali and 1 each in Sargodha, Attock, Bahawalnagar and Rahim Yar Khan have tested positive for Covid-19.
Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also registered new cases, and their toll touched 131 and 123, respectively. Azad Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan region have registered 85 COIVD-19 cases so far. Islamabad has reported 25 cases as of now.
The decision to keep the educational institutions closed and ‘restrain’ congregational prayers in mosques was made in the fifth meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) on coronavirus. The committee reviewed the current situation of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country and decided to implement the financial package of over Rs1.2 trillion announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan for those whose income has been badly hit due to lockdown in the country.
Briefing the media after the meeting, Minister for Planning Asad Umar said that the government was actively monitoring the situation and taking precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus.
The meeting was also attended by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Minister for Religious Noor ul Haq Qadri, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal.
Umar said that the special package would be implemented in letter and spirit and in a transparent manner so that its benefits could reach the deserving people. The government is also assembling a team of volunteers consisting of young people about which the prime minister himself will make an announcement in a day or two, he added.
Responding to reports about the shortage of wheat or wheat flour, the minister said that at the moment some 1.7 million metric tonnes wheat was available in the country’s stocks while new crop was ready to yield, which would be procured by the government, for which a comprehensive plan was being evolved.
Umar said that some elements were reportedly hoarding essential commodities but warned that stern action would be taken against them.
Regarding transportation issues and problems of fuel supplies in some areas of the country, the minister said that the issue would be discussed in Friday’s meeting for sorting out a solution to ensure smooth fuel supplies.
He said that the medical staff engaged in treating coronavirus patients were the frontline warriors.
Umar added that Prime Minister Imran Khan will announce two more “big initiatives” in the coming days, adding that the details of these programmes will be finalised in the next few days.
Umar said that representatives of all provinces as well as federal government officials will now work at the National Command Centre in NDMA in order to ensure that all people working on the coronavirus are in one place and can share data, exchange questions.
‘RESTRAINED’ FRIDAY PRAYERS:
Addressing the press, Minister for Religious Affairs Dr Noorul Haq Qadri said that it has been decided with a consensus that Friday prayers will be ‘restrained’.
“Only mosques’ administration staff and a limited number of worshippers will be allowed to pray inside mosques,” he added.
He clarified that mosques will not be closed but prayers and zikr will continue inside them. Dr Qadri said that the decision had been taken in consultation with ulema belonging to various schools of thought.
“Ulema have been told to tell people to pray inside their homes,” he said. “It is not only the job of the government to control coronavirus but also of the people.”
The minister said that various programmes, classes and examinations across various madrassas in Pakistan had been postponed in light of the outbreak.
ENOUGH PPE SUPPLIES:
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza provided updates with regards to the current Covid-19 cases in the country as well as decisions taken regarding personal protection equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.
Mirza said that after looking at supplies, by April 5, the country would have enough PPE supplies so that doctors, nurses, paramedics handling coronavirus patients won’t face a shortage.
He said that large supplies are in process and by April 5, the situation will improve.
Additionally, Mirza announced that an expert on infectious diseases Dr Faisal Sultan has been included in the government’s team as the focal point for coronavirus with regards to the health aspect.
VENTILATORS TO INCREASE:
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal provided updates on medical supplies in the country.
He said that currently the number of intensive care unit beds in Pakistan stands at 19,670.
Afzal said that total number of quarantine beds across the country is 162,000. He said that three-star and four-star hotel have been booked for the purpose and five-star hotels will be used as the fourth line of defence.
The NDMA chief said that there are 194,000 medical health practitioners in Pakistan, of whom 30,000 work in ICUs. He also shared that these ICU medical practitioners will be provided with a kit, including a gown, masks etc.
With regards to ventilators, the NDMA chief said that there were 61 ventilators that were not functioning. He added, however, that the Pakistan Defence Forces had an institution that has offered to repair these.
Afzal said that by April 10-15, imported ventilators will increase to 1,000. By April 25, this number will rise to 2,000 to 3,000. He said that by May, it may increase to between 8,000 and 10,000.