–Toll of affected persons nears 2,000 as minister says govt will be able to test 280,000 people from April 1
–Asad Umar says govt wants to develop balanced approach towards lockdown
LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Pakistan reported at least three more deaths on Tuesday and over a hundred new cases, taking the tally to 1,975, as the federal government announced to ramp up testing from Wednesday in order to contain the novel coronavirus.
As of Tuesday 9 pm, Punjab and Sindh reported 676 and 676 cases, respectively, whereas Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa detected 158 and 253 cases each. Islamabad and Azad Kashmir/Gilgit-Baltistan regions had 58 and 154 cases, respectively.
A 74-year-old man died from the coronavirus in Sindh, with the provincial death toll from the disease rising to eight. The patient, a resident of Karachi, was brought to the hospital on March 26 where he was tested, the Sindh health minister said.
He had a history of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and Diabetes.
Another death was of a 70-year-old patient who was tested for the coronavirus after he visited a hospital.
“The patient passed away early on Wednesday. His test results came back positive after his death,” the minister said, adding that the patient had multiple health issues and had been infected due to local transmission.
The number of people who have recovered from the deadly disease stands at 58.
‘INCREASE IN TESTING CAPACITY’
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad after the fifth meeting of National Coordination Committee on Coronavirus, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said the country will able to test and 280,000 from April 1. By March 13, the capacity was 30,000 people. By April 15, he said this capacity will rise to 900,000.
Umar said that the National Coordination Committee and the National Command Centre, that began working from Tuesday, will not be partisan.
Umar said the process for cash disbursements to the poor families under the economic stimulus package announced by the prime minister would be started within a week.
He informed that in order to materialise the prime minister’s announcement of disbursing Rs3,000 per month to 12 million families, the social protection division would publish and broadcast advertisements in newspapers and circulate messages through SMS across the country, after which the formal process of cash disbursement would start.
He said all the beneficiaries would get a four-month stipend in advance amounting to Rs 12,000 per family.
Asad Umar said five meetings of NCC to review the situation in the wake of lockdown due to coronavirus in the country had already been held and sixth would be held on Wednesday.
In order to ensure smooth implementation of decisions taken in the meeting and maintain a balanced approach, he said the prime minister had directed to have close coordination with all the provinces, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
He said the PM had also directed to work with all provinces to making special measures to ensure that the procurement of wheat was not affected due to lockdown. “There is no dearth of wheat and other essential food items, therefore people should not panic in the current situation,” he added.
He further informed that in the next meeting to be held Wednesday which would be attended by chief ministers of all the provinces, GB and AJK, the government would announce further strategy about extension or closure of lockdown in the country.
He said in order to ensure a comprehensive implementation of decisions made in the NCC meetings, a National Command Center was formed whose first meeting was held on Tuesday.
The minister said if no lockdown was in place, there was fear of a spread of the virus on a large scale; however, putting strict lockdown to such a level that people could not even get their daily use items, especially eatables, was also not doable.
He cited example of India where a strict lockdown was implemented without taking into consideration the people’s daily basis requirements, which resulted in failure.
Therefore, he said the government wanted to develop a balanced approach where people would be forced to remain inside; and shops of food, medicine and other essential items would also not be closed.
In today’s meeting, the minister informed that the PM had specially directed to ensure provision of required supplies to the utility stores specially in far-flung areas of Balochistan and districts of erstwhile FATA.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, whose province is worst-hit by the calamity, also claimed that his government would increase the testing capacity to better contain the virus.
The provincial health department has been told to increase their testing capacity for detecting COVID-19 cases, he said, adding that the department will be provided with all the resources. The chief minister added that the provincial government will also notify a committee for providing health professionals with safety kits and personal protective equipment.