Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday announced that in continuation of the ongoing countrywide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus, schools and public places will remain closed for the next two weeks.
He said certain industries such as construction will be opened, beginning tomorrow.
“We got to this decision with the consent of all the provincial chief secretaries and chief ministers,” he said, adding: “There is about an 89% consensus on which industries to reopen and which not to.”
He said that after the 18th Amendment, the provinces were given autonomy to make their own decisions in such matters. “If even now, provinces think they are not ready for this, it is up to them. The Centre will not impose its decision on them.”
Speaking of the government’s response to the virus so far, the premier said: “Owing to the restrictions we imposed, the way the virus should have spread, it did not. It only spread to an extent of 30% when compared to our projections.”
PM Imran said the projections were based on trends observed worldwide.
“190 people should have died so far. We have less than half the number of deaths from the projected number,” he said.
The prime minister, while thanking everyone for taking precautions, warned everyone that we should still all be mindful that “this virus can spread rapidly at any time”.
“We need to continue to exercise caution., perhaps even more now (so we can keep the virus at bay).”
The premier said that even though things do not seem as dismal in the country right now “if the curve spikes up, our current health system will not be able to meet the challenge”.
He said that whereas the one front the country is fighting on is the containment of the virus — for which the lockdown for schools and public places is being extended by a further two weeks — the other front is the widespread unemployment that has resulted from restrictions.
To meet that challenge, he said the first approach was to put into action the Ehsaas Programme.
“This programme has no political inteference. It is based solely on merit.”
He said that around 2.8 million families had so far benefitted from the programme already and the disbursement will continue.
PM Imran said that those families who had missed out on receiving funds, can still send a text message to 8171. The NADRA database will be used to ascertain if they, too, are deserving.
He said that even though the programme had successfully helped out many families, there was still the concern of how the government will be able to reach the country’s entire population.
The prime minister said for that purpose, all hurdles in the way of wheat harvesting have been removed so village dwellers can continue to earn a livelihood.
He said that under the same considerations, it was decided that construction work must also resume.
The prime minister said that construction, after agriculture, provides the greatest number of jobs. Citing research by Moody’s, he said that among industries with the lowest risk, construction ranks the highest.
He said that the industry will be opened “in phases”.
“By tomorrow, an ordinance will be introduced under which unprecedented incentives will be given to the construction industry.”
The prime minister, addressing the many Pakistanis stranded in various countries due to airspace closures, assured them that their dilemma had been a constant subject of debate in the government.
He said the spread of the disease in Pakistan had largely occurred when pilgrims from Taftan and travellers from abroad came to the country.
PM Imran said that there was fear that if the country is not wholly prepared testing wise and with respect to quarantine facilities, then an influx of people could cause the spread of the virus by rapid proportions.
He said, however, a strategy had now been developed to bring them back in phases.
He said he will be inviting counsel by ulema on how the worship during the holy month can continue and alongside how the people can be protected from the virus.
“Before Ramazan we will let you know how we will be balancing the two […] there will be a national response.”
The prime minister said that a strict ordinance will be introduced to safeguard against smuggling of wheat and foreign exchange as well as pre-Ramazan hoarding.
“These hoarders who make a killing before and during Ramazan […] we will not only nab the managers, but the owners.”
He said punishments “like never before” will be given to those found responsible for hoarding or smuggling of goods, as well as artificially creating shortages or causing price hikes.