Prime Minister Imran Khan while making a passionate appeal to the people to behave like “a responsible nation” in the COVID-19 situation, Monday indicated to open more sectors of economy, including tourism to minimise negative effects of the lockdown on the country’s 25% population living below the poverty line.

“Over 50 million people in Pakistan cannot afford two times meal if they do not go to work. We have a totally different situation when compared with other countries like China, the United States and Europe,” he maintained.

The prime minister expressed the views telecast live after the meeting of National Coordination Committee (NCC) he chaired, during which the latest COVID-19 situation was discussed in detail.

Imran Khan said as it was very clear that the coronavirus would not end till the availability of a vaccine, the people in every field of life would have to live with it and protect themselves by taking preventive measures and following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

The United States, which had lost over 100,000 lives due to COVID-19 and provided $ 3 trillion to stimulate its economy, he said, was now deciding to open its markets to save its economy.

“The virus will spread and the number of deaths can rise. But if we have to survive, we will have to follow the SOPs,” he added.

The prime minister said besides the construction and some other industries, he was also in favour of opening the tourism sector, which was a source of income for the poor people living in hilly areas during three to four months of the summer season.

He, however, added that the decision to open the tourism sector would be taken only after the governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan finalized the SOPs for the sector.

The prime minister said the government was fully cognisant of the problems faced by the Pakistani laboures stranded abroad, and would be bringing them back to their homeland in more numbers in the coming days.

He said the government had now decided to operate more flights to bring the stranded overseas Pakistanis back. Upon arrival they would be tested for the coronavirus and to be allowed to go to their homes for self-quarantine, he added.

Imran Khan also assured the health professionals, including doctors and nurses, that the government was very much concerned about the problems they were facing due to the COVID-19 situation.

The health workers across the world including Pakistan, he said, were the front-line force in the fight against the coronavirus, and it was understandable when they raised concerns over the issue of lockdown.

The prime minister said he would also hold a meeting with the association of doctors. However, they [doctors] should also think about the problems faced by the country where 130 to 150 million people had been affected due to the lockdown and the government could not help them continuously.

Elaborating further on the country’s economic situation worsened by the effects of coronavirus outbreak, he said the revenue collection during the current fiscal years was expected to register 30% decline, besides falling exports, remittances and investment.

“We have to take a decision between the lockdown and the economy. We are ready to help you [doctors],” the prime minister remarked.

Imran Khan said unfortunately it were the poor and downtrodden who faced more bad effects of the coronavirus lockdown. He did not want such a lockdown, but due to 18th Amendment the provincial governments used their powers.

“We did close schools, colleges, universities, marriage halls and other crowded places, but I did not want to close businesses and the construction sector, and wanted to create a balance,” he stressed.

The prime minister said the decision of lockdown was only meant to check the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing was not a treatment but helped slow-down the spread of virus, he added.

He also mentioned the situation in India, where the poor people had to face severe problems due to immediate decision of lockdown, but now they were also going to open businesses and industry.

The prime minister as the SOPs were very important in the prevention of coronavirus, the government would utilize the volunteers of Corona Relief Tiger Force for creating awareness about the SOPs among the people and their implementation in aid of district administration.

He said as the people with the diseases like diabetes and blood pressure, especially the older ones were vulnerable, it was the duty of younger and healthy to follow the SOPs to help protect their elders.

The prime minister said the government would soon come up with a programme under which data about availability of the ventilators and beds at Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in hospitals across the country would be updated on daily basis and would be accessible to the people.

He said with over 50% of ventilators in hospitals across the country currently available for the COVID-19 patients, the government was also working to enhance capacity.