–Imran warns of surge in cases by end April, says healthcare not equipped to deal with pandemic
–Says govt will start distributing Rs144bn among 12m families from Thursday; aide calls it ‘extremely transparent’ relief programme
–Umar says will bring stranded Pakistanis home without importing coronavirus with them
ISLAMABAD: As the number of coronavirus cases continued to surge in the country on Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned the cases could see a massive rise by the end of April and crash the healthcare system, leading to some “tough decisions”, if people continued to circumvent lockdown rules.
As of Wednesday evening, the national tally stood at 4,196, Punjab accounting for more than half of the cases with 2,108 cases. Sindh has 1,036 cases, whereas Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh have 527 and 212 cases, respectively. Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan have a total of 230 cases, while Islamabad has 83 reported infections so far.
The total number of recovered patients is 467, while 60 have died since the outbreak.
Speaking to reporters, the PM hinted at an extended lockdown, saying the government will have to take tough decisions if the situation turned worse. He said the coronavirus is not going to go away any time soon. “This is not something that will go away in two or three weeks, this will go on for some time.”
The premier said that the country does not have the resources to deal with the pandemic on a large scale and the government would need to take “tough decisions”, urging young people to stay home for the sake of their elders. Older people are most susceptible to the disease.
He said the coronavirus is “very dangerous” for the elderly and sick people. “If this spreads faster, it would burden our healthcare system, we wouldn’t have enough ventilators for people with respiratory diseases,” he said.
He announced that the government’s rescue package for the poor class, i.e. lump sum of Rs12,000 for three months, will be distributed among 12 million families across the country from Thursday in order to provide relief to society’s weakest section.
Imran said that the money will be provided purely on merit to the deserving families under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, adding that around 17,000 points have been set up across the country for the cash distribution.
He maintained that the process of awarding cash worth Rs144bn to the families will be completed within the next three weeks.
The prime minister said that when news of the coronavirus outbreak first surfaced, it was Pakistan’s aim to procure enough medical equipment at the outset that the hospitals are not overwhelmed.
The PM said he was “so disappointed” by the police violence against protesting doctors in Balochistan. He said the frontline healthcare workers are doing jihad against the coronavirus and that they need personal protective equipment and ventilators.
‘BRINGING OVERSEAS PAKISTANIS BACK’:
Speaking about Pakistani people stranded overseas, Minister for Planning Asad Umar said many Pakistanis abroad who had gone with a visa or those who have lost their jobs wish to come back.
The government wanted to bring these people back in a week, he said, adding that in the first week, flights only came to Islamabad as the government had decided that “after the first day, it will review the situation”.
“It was good we had decided that as there were a few troubles that arose after the first flight which we have now fine-tuned,” said the minister. Umar said that the matter came under discussion in the National Coordination Committee held earlier in the day.
“We agreed that the other airports have to be included in this,” he said, referring to airports in other provinces. “A system is being made so that they can come back without spreading the potential infection.
He said by next week, operations will begin at airports in other provinces.
‘NDMA PROVIDING EQUIPMENT’:
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chief Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal told reporters that in the initial days, demand for equipment had only come from three areas, including the capital territory.
“Then we ourselves sent equipment to other areas, especially to doctors working in the ICUs,” he said.
He said for Punjab, it was found 6,000 people needed equipment but equipment for 18,000 was provided. Furthermore, 20,000 more items are ready and will be distributed to doctors by name across 56 hospitals in the days to come, he added.
“There was also no written demand from Sindh. We calculated the number of doctors and nurses and arrived at a figure of 9,000. We sent them equipment for 15,000.” He said 42 hospitals are still on the agenda and will receive equipment soon.
Gen Afzal said demand from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had come for the first time yesterday [Tueday] and they have asked for 940,000 PPEs. “We had already sent them 10,900 PPEs,” he said, adding that over the next three days, more will be sent through the army and civil administration.
The NDMA chairman said, similarly, there was no written demand from Balochistan but with a calculated figure of 2,000, extra equipment of up to 8,000 items was provided to the province.
A demand of 15,000 items had come from Gilgit-Baltistan and we gave them 24,000 articles and 4,000 more will be given “under a fresh plan”.
He said that three to four hospitals in Islamabad had demanded 18,000 items and so far 8,000 items had been provided. A plan is in place for another 6,000 to be distributed over the next three days.
Gen Afzal said that from Azad Jammu Kashmir a demand of 10,000 items had come and 13,000 items had already been sent, whereas another 2,000 will be sent in the coming days.
He also said that despite an international shortage of ventilators, “with cooperation from provincial and federal governments, the benchmarks set will be met”.
Speaking of the country’s testing capacity, he said that on March 13, there were only 14 laboratories that could carry out about 2,000 to 2,250 tests a day. “Today we have 22 laboratories. For 12 laboratories, the equipment has been sent to provinces already.”