Islamabad - Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday urged the nation to strictly follow coronavirus related Standard Operations Procedures (SOPs) to allow for gradually re-opening of more sectors of the economy from lockdown.

In his televised press conference after chairing a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCOC) here, the Prime Minister said that the economy could not bear the impact of an extended lockdown, while urging the people to follow SOPs to stem the spread of the virus.

He said tourism is one of the areas where restrictions will be relaxed because it thrives only for a few months of the year and directed the Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhewa and GB government to firm up SOPs for opening up of this sector.

He said coronavirus is here to stay unless a vaccine is developed to eradicate it. He cautioned that the virus will further spread in the coming days. He said we can live with it in better way if people follow the SOPs and precautionary measures all the time.

The Prime Minister said services of volunteer Corona Relief Tiger Force will be utilised to increase awareness among masses about the pandemic.

Imran Khan assured doctors and paramedics that government will assist them in every possible way while dealing with coronavirus.

The Prime Minister further said the government has decided that overseas Pakistanis will be allowed to return to Pakistan and that they will be tested for coronavirus.

After that they will be allowed to go to their homes and self-quarantine in case they test positive.

“I want overseas Pakistanis — especially labourers stranded in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and some others in Europe — to know that we are discussing how to bring them back.”

“Nearly 80-90% cases were imported and we closed off the airspace due to such circumstances. We have decided to bring Pakistanis back. We will test them and those who test positive will be asked to self-isolate in their homes.”

“Those with diabetes, blood pressure, and the elderly face a risk from the virus. If we implement SOPs, we can save their lives as well. We are bringing a programme with which people can get to know about where the ventilators are available,” he said.

He said meetings of National Command and Operation Center are being held on a daily basis to closely monitor and take stock of the situation. He said Chief Ministers and provincial Chief Secretaries participated in the latest meeting. 

“Since day one, when we got to know that coronavirus had started spreading in Pakistan, we imposed a lockdown following a national security committee meeting”, he said.

Imran Khan said Pakistan is facing a different situation than US, Europe and China. He said around 50 million Pakistanis are living under the poverty line and are not able to afford three times meal a day.

“After doing calculations, we figured out that there are 25 million people who are daily wagers and who get paid weekly and whose households had to remain hungry if they did not earn for one day,” he added, saying those families comprised 12-15 million people in total.

The labourers and daily-wagers, he added, were part of the informal, unregistered economy.

“The virus spreads at a fast pace and imposing lockdown is not the cure to it. It only slows the spread of the virus. The lockdown helped reduce pressure on doctors and health workers in hospitals,” he said.

He said that some 30-35% people in Karachi live in slums. What effect would the lockdown has had on them, he asked?

“On the one hand, we had the wealthy elite, whose attitude was completely different and who were demanding lockdown because there was a lockdown in Europe. On the other hand, we had the poor people and households where seven, eight or 10 people live in one room, the taxi- and rickshaw-drivers, the daily-wagers”, he asserted.

He said that he did not want a lockdown like the one that was imposed in Pakistan but due to the 18th Amendment, the provinces had the authority and took their own decisions due to pressure.

Prime Minister said doctors, elite, and the poor all had diverse opinions but it was the downtrodden ones of the society who did not have a voice. 25 million people are daily wagers. He said if we include families of these persons, then the figure reaches to 120 million people who could not live without work.

He said that coronavirus is not going away till a vaccine is not invented, so all of us have to live with it.

“Virus spreads. Virus will spread. If we have to successfully live with the virus, it is the responsibility of the people. If they take precautionary measures, we can tackle the virus and live with it. If we close specific areas, then the businesses of those areas will be affected,” he added.

The Prime Minister said lockdown and social distancing slows down the spread of disease.  “We also have to see the condition of our hospitals as they cannot face the burden of patients”, he said.

Citing the example of India, he said the lockdown had caused adversities there and people were forced into extreme poverty.

“They have also lifted their lockdown as their economy cannot bear it anymore,” he concluded.