ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Imran Khan Thursday said since the country’s situation in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak was not as bad as was being expected, Pakistan with the grace of Allah Almighty would soon overcome the challenge and be one of the countries getting out of the deadly virus speedily.

“If we compare Pakistan with other countries, the situation is far better. What we were expecting was that till now hospitals, especially Intensive Care Units (ICUs) should have been filled with the coronavirus patients, besides the shortage of ventilators. But thanks God, the situation is far better,” he said.

The prime minister expressed these views in a televised media briefing here after chairing a meeting on COVID-19. He was flanked by Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar, Special Assistant to the PM on Social Safety and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and the PM’s Focal Person on COVID-19 Dr Faisal Sultan.

The prime minister said the government’s effective measures, including the decision of going for lockdown, closure of schools and colleges, restrictions on gatherings after the registration of 26 coronavirus positive cases as well as the cooperation of masses were behind the not so bad situation.

Rs81 billion distributed among 6.6 million deserving families

He mentioned his telephonic conversations with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh Sisi, and said the discussions focused on the situation arising out of the coronavirus outbreak.

Referring to his conversation with President Hassan Rouhani, the prime minister said Iran, which was badly hit by COVID-19 and had so far lost around 5,500 lives, had decided to ease restrictions and open some industries, including construction and small businesses to check economic difficulties faced by the people, particularly the poor and low income group.

He said Egypt, which also faced economic hardships like Pakistan, was already following the practice of a partial lockdown with restrictions on crowded activities, had also decided to further ease the restrictions for the relief of poor.

The prime minister said Pakistan and Egypt would benefit from each other’s experiences and strategies to overcome the challenges faced by the two countries in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak.

He said as he was worried for the poor and daily wage earners from very first day of the lockdown, he was proud of his government’s Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme under which Rs 12,000 per family were being distributed among 12 million poor people across the country.

The prime minister said under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, which was apolitical, transport and merit based, Rs 81 billion had so far been distributed among 6.6 million families during the last three weeks and the remaining out of 12 million people would also get the financial assistance soon.

The prime minister said besides the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, he would soon announce another programme to provide relief to the people unemployed due to the lockdown in the wake of COVID-19.

Under the new programme, he said, an SMS service would be launched to register the unemployed people and provide them with the financial assistance after verification of their data and claim of unemployment.

Secondly, he said, the people from the volunteer Corona Tiger Force would also reach out to the people at union council level to get the unemployed people registered for financial assistance from the government.

Imran Khan said unlike the developed countries where 100 percent people were registered and could be easily accessed by the government in case of emergency, around 80 to 85 percent labourers, daily wager, vendors etc. were not registered with government institutions.

The development and creation of workers and labour data would help the government and people alike in any such situation or otherwise in future, he added.

The prime minister said the Corona Relief Fund, established to help the people affected by the coronavirus lockdown, would be bolstered by the government by depositing the amounts to match the contribution from the masses with a one to four ratio.

“Fore example, if an amount of Rs 100,000 is deposited in the PM Corona Relief Fund by a person, the government will deposit Rs 400,000 in the fund make it Rs 500,000,” he explained.

The prime minister mentioned the situation in the United States and European countries where thousands of people had died of COVID-19 and said the situation in Pakistan with the blessings of Allah Almighty was far better.

He said with no vaccine so far available for COVID-19, nobody knew how long the situation would continue in the world, including Pakistan.

Imra Khan urged the citizens to behave responsibly, and follow the guidelines and protocols given by the experts for people in every field of life to save themselves from the coronavirus.

He said since the government alone could not succeed in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, it was the whole nation which by demonstrating responsibility together, could defeat the deadly virus.

The prime minister was highly appreciative of the efforts of Dr Sania Nishtar in the launching of Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said that as doctors and para medical staff were on the forefront in the fight against COVID-19, it was the government’s first priority to protect them and provide them with the protective gear.

 

He said after the difficulties faced by the country in the initial days, now production of protective equipment as well as the ventilators had been started by Pakistani industries, and after fulfilling the local needs, the products would also be exported.

The prime minister said the government was fully cognizant of the problems faced by overseas Pakistanis in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak and considered them as country’s asset and real VIPs who served Pakistan by remitting precious foreign exchange.

Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said that with less number of deaths as against the earlier projections of thousands of deaths due to COVID-19 by end of April, the situation in Pakistan was not out of control.

He hoped that after the conclusion of current lockdown on May 9, the government through discussion and review of the situation in the next meeting of National Coordination Committee (NCC) would ease some lockdown restrictions.

However, on the economic front, he said that due to COVID-19, Pakistan was expected to face 30 to 35 percent reduction in its revenue collection this year.

Besides, Asad Umar said according to a latest survey Pakistan was among 10 to 15 developing countries facing increase in poverty at individual levels in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak.

Special Assistant to the PM on Social Safety and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar said that Rs 81 million had so far been distributed among the deserving 6.6 million families and those who had not received the financial assistance of Rs 12000 would get the same within the next ten days.

She warned the people not to pay heed to any fake messages of receiving financial assistance and visit the distribution points only after getting a confirmation message or SMS from 8171 – a service from Ehsaas Programme.

Dr. Faisal Sultan said Pakistan has now enough COVID-19 data for regular analysation of the disease and its trend. He said all the government decisions regarding COVID-19 were taken on the basis of regular data analysation and ground realities by health experts and other stakeholders.

Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza said that with the addition of 874 people during the last 24 hours, the total number of coronavirus positive cases in Pakistan to date stood at 15800 out of which over 4000 had recovered and 346 died.

He said that since 80 to 85 percent people were recovering after getting ill due to COVID-19 in the world over, the situation in Pakistan was better.

Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar said that the government by realising the difficulties faced by small and medium enterprises had allocated Rs 50 billion to provide relief in electricity bills of SMEs for three months.

He said that 3.5 million SMEs would get benefit from the relief programme under which the government would pay electricity bills of SMEs having commercial meters with 5kw to 70kw monthly consumption during the next three months.

Meanwhie, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday expressed his resolve to chalk out a comprehensive vision to improve living standard of common people and to bring them out of poverty.

Addressing a ceremony in Islamabad, he said self-belief is the panacea for development, progress, and self-reliance. He said we have to go towards a knowledge economy, and get better education in science and technology to secure a dignified place among the comity of nations.

He said the COVID-19 crisis provided an opportunity to produce locally manufactured ventilators and other protective equipment as everything cannot be imported.

PM said we have to improve our hospitals and revamp our medical infrastructure. He said hospitals will not improve unless the elite-class including ministers do not go there for treatment.

On the occasion, the Prime Minister also inspected various medical equipment produced by various public sector organisations and private sector.

Minister of Science and Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said Pakistan is producing Personal Protective Equipment indigenously on affordable cost to face the challenge of COVID-19. 

Giving a briefing to Prime Minister Imran Khan during the ceremony in Islamabad on Thursday, he said the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research is manufacturing hand sanitisers and disinfectants in large quantities and we can export these goods, even after meeting our local requirements.

He said seven types of ventilators designed by the Pakistan Engineering Council are in clinical trial, while National University of Science and Technology has developed its own testing kit.

Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said private sector, especially the textile sector of Faisalabad, is producing protective gears for doctors and health workers beyond our domestic consumption.

Giving briefing to Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad during the ceremony, Minister of Defence Production Zobaida Jalal said Pakistanis have great minds and are able to overcome any kind of challenge.

She said after COVID-19 emerged we have mobilised teams working under Ministry of Defence Production to prepare safety equipment in the fight against coronavirus.

Zobaida Jalal said her ministry has achieved the capability to produce around 300,000 to 400,000 litres of sanitisers, 35,000 high quality masks and 400-500 protective suits per day.

She said production sector along with its establishments have stepped forward to complement the national fight against COVID-19 and work out methodologies of utilising existing industrial infrastructure for development of protective gears and other articles. She said we made possible all the production with our own resources. In this regard, NRCC utilised 10 million rupees from its own resources.

She said that NRCC will start repairing of ventilators in Haripur and Lahore soon to meet any kind of emergency. Three hundred ventilators have so far been repaired by our engineers.  She said our engineers are behind the scene of success doing combat the COVID-19.