–PM Imran says govt has no idea ‘what situation will be like in two weeks’
–Says ‘Corona Relief Tigers’ will help govt provide food to poor people, map out affected localities
–Says govt has lifted ban on goods transport, no shortage of wheat in country
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said the government would set up a special youth force to help the authorities combat the COVID-19 pandemic as the government braced for the ‘worst-case scenario” in wake of the increasing number of positive cases in the country, which reached 1,321 in the evening.
In a special briefing to journalists, PM Imran called upon volunteers to join the task force for which registration will begin on March 31.
“If we want to lock down the country, we don’t have the infrastructure to get food to people’s homes,” he said alluding the lockdown by the Chinese government that had delivered food at homes during the curfew.
“So I am announcing today, we are developing a special youth force. Preparations for this are in full swing. We will have a membership drive with the citizen’s portal,” said PM Imran. “The corona relief tigers will be sent all over Pakistan. We will map out where there is a spike in cases and these tigers will be sent to those areas to deliver essential supplies.”
Speaking about the pandemic, he said it dramatically spread across the globe, with the United States emerging as the new epicentre. He said given the rise in cases across the world, the government was making preparation to be ready for any calamity.
“No one can say today what the situation will be two weeks down the line,” he added.
The PM said there was no food shortage in the country and that if people were having trouble finding the basic necessities, like wheat and sugar, it was due to the logistics complication stemming from the lockdown.
Imran said that the government had decided to lift the ban on goods transport across the country in order to maintain a supply of daily use commodities.
Federal Minister for Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar then provided “an exact picture” of the situation. He said that tabulations for seven essential food items had been done to ascertain their stock across various districts.
“Where there is a shortage, the province will fulfill the demand. We have mapped out the country’s transport needs for this.”
“Provinces are completing their targets and our aim is to not involve the private sector at this point.
“We have developed a mechanism with all the provinces today under which a certain quantity will be bought from Sindh by Sindh government, Pasco and the private sector,” explained Bakhtiar.
The wheat will be brought to Punjab and delivered to KP as per the quantity determined, he said.
“The ratio of wheat to wheat flour has been increased by 20 per cent. So the same amount of wheat will now yield more and better quality wheat flour.”
He said there was plentiful supply of wheat — 1.6 tonnes to be precise — currently available in the public sector. “Wheat harvest has begun in Sindh and will be done in the country’s northern regions as well, soon.”
The government will also establish a corona fund in the coming week to attract donations so that it can look after the underprivileged during the lockdown.
“Data on our daily wagers is being collected. We will also dispense funds from the Ehsas programme and then this fund will be an added source to help people buy essential items for their families,” he added.
Labelling this an unprecedented initiative and putting stock in people’s charitable spirits, the prime minister said that Pakistanis donate like no other nation in the world. He recalled earthquakes and floods which had wreaked much damage in the country but put no dent in people’s willingness to help.
“But what happened was there was a duplication of services. There were areas where there was a great amount of work done and some in which there was no one and people were left hungry,” said PM Imran.
He said with the use of information technology and the Ehsas initiative, everyone who wishes to donate will be registered and will be able to see which areas need the most assistance.
“Everyone will know who is doing what and where.”
OVERSEAS PAKISTANI SHOULD DONATE:
The premier acknowledged that in the backdrop of the crisis, Pakistan will see a drop in remittances and foreign exchange reserves will be impacted.
To counter this, he said an account will be opened in State Bank of Pakistan, for which details will be provided on Monday or Tuesday.
“Right now, the Pakistani people are most in need of donations from abroad. I want overseas Pakistanis to deposit their money here so pressure from our foreign exchange reserves is relieved,” said the prime minister.
“This will be the fund that will pull the country out from these difficult times.”