ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said that disbursement of Rs 144 billion coronavirus relief funds under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme among 12 million poor families will begin today (Thursday).

The Prime Minister stated this while talking to media persons in the capital after presiding over a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC).

The Prime Minister said that payment of emergency cash to deserving families will be done within the next two and half weeks through 17,000 distribution centers, adding that data for Ehsaas programme has been taken from NADRA.

“Distribution of funds to the deserving families will be totally merit-based, transparent and non-political,” he assured the gathered media persons.

The Prime Minister said that the Coronavirus Relief Tigers Force will continue to identify deserving poor people at district and union council level, and these will be added in the existing list of deserving people.

He said the volunteer force has two main purposes: to identify people who are needy and to identify people who need to be put under quarantine.

“The volunteers will try to locate people who are unable to register through SMS for the cash disbursement programme. They will find out who has received assistance and who need assistance.”

Imran Khan urged the youth to join the Coronavirus Relief Tigers Force, expressing hope that the government would succeed in the war against coronavirus with national unity and the help of our youth.

He also urged opposition leaders, parliamentarians and civil society to support the government in its endeavors to steer Pakistan out of this crisis.

He added that the lockdown will only succeed if people are provided food at their doorsteps and the relief force would play an important role in this regard. Furthermore, the Prime Minister warned that gathering of people in one place is a dangerous thing. “We can avoid getting into problems by social distancing.”

“We have observed that people are not following restrictions in many places.” He said that the coronavirus is very dangerous for the elderly and sick people.

Imran Khan said that the disease would spread very fast if people refused to stay at home and urged them to stay at home for the sake of their elders.

“If this spreads faster, it would burden our healthcare system, we wouldn’t have enough ventilators for people with respiratory diseases,” he said. “Coronavirus will not go away in two or three weeks. It will take time for things to come back to normal.”

He maintained that people assume they are immune to coronavirus which is wrong. He cautioned that every single person in Pakistan might be infected due to Covid-19.  Citizens must understand the gravity of the situation and demonstrate responsibility by adopting all necessary precautionary measures to contain the virus.

Speaking on the occasion, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar said the government has received over 30.5 million SMS on 8171 for financial assistance under Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme.

She said over 12 million deserving families will be awarded 12,000 rupees each after biometric verification. Dr Sania Nishtar said the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme is a countrywide umbrella, and all provinces, including Federation, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, are part of this platform.

“The cash disbursement programme is fully automated and digital and there is no human or political interference in it.”

The Special Assistant asked people to contact toll-free helpline number 0800-26477 for any query.

Asad Umar took over the briefing for a while to discuss the matter of flights bringing back Pakistanis stranded abroad.

“Many Pakistanis abroad who had gone with a visa or those who have lost their jobs wish to come back,” noted Umar.

He said a plan was initially made to bring people back over the course of a week.

“In the first week, flights only came to Islamabad. We had decided that after the first day, we will review. It was good we had decided that as there were a few troubles that arose after the first flight which we have now fine-tuned.”

Umar said that the matter came under discussion in the National Coordination Committee held earlier in the day.

“We agreed that the other airports have to be included in this,” he said, referring to airports in other provinces. A system is being made so that they can come and at the same time no danger is posed from their arrival.”

He said by next week, operations will begin at airports in other provinces.

In his remarks, NDMA Chairman Lt General Muhammad Afzal said that in the initial days, demand for equipment had only come from three areas, including the capital territory. “Then we ourselves sent equipment to other areas, especially to doctors working in ICUs.”

He said for Punjab, it was found 6,000 people needed equipment but equipment for 18,000 was provided. Furthermore, 20,000 more items are ready and will be distributed to doctors by name across 56 hospitals in the days to come.

“There was also no written demand from Sindh. We calculated number of doctors and nurses and arrived at a figure of 9,000. We sent them equipment for 15,000.”

He said 42 hospitals are still on the agenda and will receive equipment soon.

Gen Afzal said demand from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had come for the first time yesterday and they have asked for 940,000 PPEs. “We had already sent them 10,900 Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs),” he said, adding that over the next three days, more will be sent through the army and civil administration.

The NDMA chairman said, similarly, there was no written demand from Balochistan but with a calculated figure of 2,000, extra equipment of up to 8,000 items was provided to the province.

A demand of 15,000 items had come from Gilgit-Baltistan and we gave them at least 24,000 articles and 4,000 more will be given “under a fresh plan.”

He said that three to four hospitals in Islamabad had demanded 18,000 items and so far 8,000 items had been provided. A plan is in place for another 6,000 to be distributed over the next three days.

He said at present, 22 laboratories are functional across the country, while equipment for establishing further 12 laboratories has been dispatched to the provinces.

NDMA Chairman said, “There is shortage of ventilators in international market but we are making efforts to procure more and more.”

The NDMA Chairman said 100,000 testing kits will arrive in Pakistan tonight out of which 35000 kits will be given to Sindh, 15000 to Balochistan, while 25000 each will be given to Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  

Lt General Muhammad Afzal informed that 2, 35,000 more testing kits will be imported on Friday.

Special Assistant to PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan and Special Assistant to PM on Youth Affairs Usman Dar were also present.