Pakistani PM Imran Khan unveils special economic package to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in the country

Pakistani PM Imran Khan unveils special economic package to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in the country

ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Imran Khan Friday said the government was working on an economic package, including special incentives for the construction sector, to be announced on March 24, to protect the people, industry and the country’s economy from the negative effects of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The package being prepared by the Ministry of Finance, in consultation and coordination with the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), was aimed at protecting small industries and the people from lower strata of the society, he said while talking to senior media-persons here.

Advisor to the PM on Finance Dr Hafeez Sheikh, Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal were also present on the occasion.

The prime minister, in his remarks aired live by television channels, spoke about the measures taken by the government after the outbreak of COVID-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, especially after January 15.

He said since the country, with 25% of its people suffering from absolute poverty and the overall poverty at around 40%, could not afford lockdown of cities, the construction sector would be offered special incentives to keep the wheels of economy running and providing jobs to the labourers and daily wagers.

The prime minister, however, in response to a question said if required the government would enforce complete lockdown but would go step by step by initially closing down specific places with enhanced number of patients. He said government had decided to continuously keep the nation updated about the situation of coronavirus. Accurate information about the deadly virus would be shared with people.

“If any information or news about the coronavirus is concealed, it will be injustice with the country and the people,” he maintained.

The prime minister also categorically clarified that contrary to the impression of mishandling of the situation at Taftan border, there was no lapse on the part of Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Jam Kamal Khan and said it was not time of blame-game.

He said the government was in close contact with China after the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, monitoring the situation and started contacts with Iran after the Pakistani pilgrims started crossing the Taftan border.

Imran Khan praised the Chinese government for taking care of Pakistani students in Wuhan and treating them as their own people.

He also urged the international community to lift economic sanctions from Iran to enable the country – severely hit by the coronavirus – to fight the deadly virus effectively.

The prime minister expressed the fear that if Pakistan faced the spike of coronavirus it would create a serious situation due to its healthcare capacity and hospital facilities.

He urged the nation to adopt preventive measures like social-distancing and self-quarantine to save themselves from the deadly virus.

The prime minister said as the deadly virus could cause panic in the society, the people from the media, including journalists, opinion-makers, anchors and owners of media houses, had an important role in dissemination of accurate information and avoiding from sensationalism.

The government, he said, would give guidelines to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and other media bodies in that respect. “If the people started panic-buying, there will be shortage of commodities, especially food items, and the prices will shoot up,” he remarked.

The prime minister referred to the media reports about the supermarkets in the United States and other Western countries emptied by the people in panic as well as queues for purchasing weapons.

“Nobody can tell how long this situation of coronavirus will continue?” he said and urged the people to fight this war against the deadly disease as a nation. To a question, the prime minister said the dissemination of accurate date on coronavirus was in the interest of the country and the nation.

He said he was against the lockdown of cities because of the fact that venders, daily-wagers and labourers in Pakistan could not survive without earnings. “Our effort, through the economic package, is to bring the lower strata of society into the social network,” he maintained.

To another question, Imran Khan said the government was working on the establishment of quarantine facilities in Pakistan for 150,000 expatriates, who were currently trapped in the countries facing the spike of coronavirus, and wanted to come back to their motherland.

After the establishment of quarantine facilities by the NDMA within the next two weeks, the government would allow the overseas Pakistanis to travel back to the homeland, he added.

NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal told the media that the government had created 1600 beds capacity in nine hospitals with three in Punjab, two in Sindh, one each in Quetta and Gwadar, two in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, one each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and two small hospitals in Gilgit Baltistan.

Moreover, one ward in all the major hospitals had been specified as an isolation facility, he added.

He said currently 12 million masks were available in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, and another 12 million had been booked with different vendors in Pakistan. Around 100,000 masks were available in Peshawar and 50,000 in Balochistan.

He said the distribution of around 12,500 suits would start by Saturday for the health workers. Some 2,000 thermal guns had been placed at the entry points of different government departments, while another 30,000 would be imported from China soon.

The NDMA chief said they had around 15,000 N-95 masks available in the stock and would receive another 50,000 by Friday night. The Chinese business giant Alibaba had also donated 50,000 masks to Pakistan.

He told the media that around 1700 ventilators were available across the country, with 600 in private hospitals of Sindh, KP and Punjab.

He said the ventilators were not available in the international market, however, with the Chinese help, Pakistan had been able to book around 800 ventilators. The government was in contact with the company to increase the number to 6,000.

He said the NDMA was trying to get 1200-1500 ventilators without any delay and hopefully would get 25 ventilators by Saturday.

He said 200,000 N-95 masks had been ordered mainly for the hospital workers. The number of mobile X-rays would also be doubled, he added.

He said three accommodations had been established at all the three entry points at the western border having total capacity of 1,200 single beds and washrooms with the provision of 1,000 more beds.

Advisor on Finance Abdul Hafeez Sheikh said the world economy had faced loss of around Rs 350 billion owing to the coronavirus outbreak and the government was devising a strategy to reduce its impact on the national economy.

As the foremost measure, he said, the government would tackle the medical emergency through appropriate response followed by the relief to the affected groups and people like airlines, retail and SMEs (small medium enterprises).

Moreover, a stimulus package would be announced to reduce taxes and enhance subsidies to accelerate the jobs creation.

He said after consultation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it had been agreed that the expenses to be incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak would not be counted in the country’s deficit.

The IMF had also allowed an incentives package to support the industry, which had not been planned earlier, he added.

Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza said it had been decided in the National Coordination Committee (NCC) that the Federal Government in coordination with the provincial governments would update the situation of coronavirus on daily basis.

The verified data or numbers of the people affected by the coronavirus across the country would be released at the national level, he added.