‘Unanimous decision’ likely in meeting under PM’s chair

ISLAMABAD – Federal Minister for Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Saturday said the government would take a decision on whether to extend the lockdown or ease restrictions on Monday.

While briefing media along with Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza in Islamabad about the overall situation of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, he said that they would present their recommendations to the Prime Minister and the National Coordination Committee (NCC). “They would take a (final) decision on the lockdown,” he said. “The next steps will be taken after 14th of this month.”

He said the meeting of the National Coordination Committee chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan will be held on Monday in which effort will be made to make a unanimous decision on next steps. He said the government is trying to increase testing capacity to 25,000 tests for COVID-19 per day in a bid to contain the spread of the highly contagious disease. “South Korea is a prime example… they conducted tests rapidly to contain the virus,” he said. “We have worked on SOPs about COIVD-19… how to draw samples and how to carry out tests… we’re in coordination with provinces as well,” said the minister.

4,788 are tested positive out of total 48,584 samples

He was of the view that it was easy to go for the lockdown option, but its economic consequences are very dangerous. “We would eventually have to ease restriction. Therefore, we need a mechanism for life after lockdown, he added. “The government would have to decide soon what industries and sector would need to be opened. We will assess the risk factor while taking the decision,” he said.

The Planning Minister said that Rs 13 billion rupees were distributed among 1.1 million people under Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme so far. He said Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan under which 144 billion rupees will be distributed among 12 million people of the country. He said 1.7 million surgical masks have been distributed by National Disaster Management Authority as yet, and the figure also includes 75,000 N-95 masks. He said 73,000 protective clothes have also been provided to frontline health staff. He said 137,000 surgical caps have also been distributed among the staff.

Asad Umar said they have received testing kits for holding 100,000 tests. Of these, 50,000 will be sent to Sindh. He said with improved capacity, tests on daily basis have increased to 2,500 to 3,000. He said tracking is also being increased to stop the spread of coronavirus. He said that there has been reduction in economic activities due to the lockdown and one third decline has been witnessed in collection of taxes.

Speaking on the occasion, Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza dispelled the impression in certain quarters regarding the low death rate in Pakistan by the killer bug. He warned that if we let our guard down, the number of deaths can increase significantly. He said that people think restrictions should be eased because the country has a lower number of cases than projected and warned that doing so would be a mistake. “If we ease restrictions, the number of cases and deaths will sharply increase […] in fact we should add to our restrictions,” he said. He also underscored the need to maintain social distancing even after restrictions are eased.

Giving breakup of corona cases, he said the number of confirmed patients in world is over 1.7 million with 100,000 deaths so far. Mirza said 48,584 tests have been conducted in Pakistan as yet with 4,788 confirmed corona patients. He said 190 new patients were confirmed during the last 24 hours. He said 752 people have recovered from this disease with an increase of 32 in last 24 hours.

He said 1,411 patients are admitted in various hospitals of the country with fifty in critical condition and put on ventilators. Dr. Zafar Mirza said 72 people have succumbed to coronavirus, with 5 deaths in last twenty four hours alone. He advised people to strictly follow the social distancing and other precautionary measures to stem the increase in coronavirus cases.

Earlier in the day, the National Command & Operation Centre (NCOC) was given detailed briefing on latest COVID-19 and management of supply line for essential medical equipment for covid-19. Asad Umar, Federal Minister for Planning, development, Reforms & special initiatives chaired the session.

He instructed the concerned authorities for detailed guidelines/ SOPs for opening OPDs in hospitals, essential industries, for public safety and health. The meeting emphasized that all COVID-19-related procurement through NDMA will be processed through NCOC for policy decision on the subject.

Federal Ministers Brig Ijaz Ahmed Shah (Retired), Minister for Interior; Muhammad Hammad Azhar, Minister for Industries & Production; Omar Ayub Khan, Minister for energy; Khusro Bakhtiar, Minister for Economic Affairs; Fakhar Imam, Minister for National Food & Security; Moeed Yousaf, SAPM National Security; Dr Zafar Mirza, SAPM Health; Ms Tania Aidrus, and SAPM Digital Pak and Dr Faisal Sultan attended the briefing.

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