ISLAMABAD - Declaring that the government will not withhold any information regarding the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday urged the nation to adopt preventive measures, like social-distancing and self-quarantine, to save themselves from the deadly virus.

Talking to a group of senior media persons in the capital, the Prime Minister expressed concern that if Pakistan faced a sharp spike in cases it would create a serious situation. “I fear that if the number of coronavirus cases spiked suddenly, like it happened in Europe, our health care system would not be able to cope with the situation as there are not enough ventilators and ICUs.”

Advisor to the PM on Finance Dr Hafeez Sheikh, Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal were also present at the press meeting.

In an extensive interview  Prime Minister warned the people to strictly follow social distancing measures as the country is facing two major threats due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, saying “people should self-quarantine for at least another 45 days to help tackle the crisis”.

“Nobody can tell how long this situation will continue” he said and urged the people to fight this war against the deadly disease as a nation.

The Prime Minister said as the deadly virus could cause panic in the society, the people from the media, including journalists, opinion-makers, anchors and owners of media houses, had an important role in dissemination of accurate information and avoiding sensationalism.

The government, he said, would give guidelines to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and other media bodies in that respect. “If the people started panic-buying, there will be shortage of commodities, especially food items, and the prices will shoot up,” he remarked.

The prime minister referred to the media reports about the supermarkets in the United States and other Western countries emptied by the people in panic as well as queues for purchasing weapons.

 

The Prime Minister said the situation is being monitored and tracked on daily basis to gauge its impacts. He said experiences of various countries, especially China, will be utilized to tackle the menace of coronavirus.

 

Imran Khan said the government is fully alert to the threat and it has been decided that all federal ministers will be available in Islamabad during this crisis and they will not be given leave.

 

He said he will update the people about the coronavirus situation twice a week.  He said no information will be withheld from people, so that prompt action can be taken.

 

Dispelling the negative impression created by some media channels on steps taken by federal government in the wake of coronavirus, the Prime Minister said the government was in constant contact with the Chinese government when the cases of virus first emerged in their country.

Later, when the cases were traced in Iran, we also started communicating with Tehran regarding the situation.

 

He said Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza visited Taftan area to witness the situation first-hand.

 

As a result, a lot of measures were adopted for better screening of patients of coronavirus in collaboration with army and civilian authorities.  He said it is not right to blame anyone in this crisis.

The Prime Minister urged the international community to lift sanctions from Iran as they are dealing with this situation despite having limited resources and medical facilities.

 

Imran Khan said if the cases spike in Pakistan, four to five percent of the people may need hospitalization which will put a strain on available medical resources.

 

He said even in advanced countries like Italy, the situation is becoming critical due to shortage of medical supplies.

 

The Prime Minister said we have to strike balance between stopping gatherings of people and the safety of their livelihoods.

 

“We are going to provide incentives to construction industry to create employment opportunities. We want people to exercise discipline, rather than locking down whole cities’, he added.

 

Imran Khan said work is underway on creating a financial package that will be announced on next Tuesday. He said all stakeholders, including State Bank of Pakistan, Ministry of Finance and FBR are involved in the preparation of this package to provide incentives.

 

Speaking on the occasion, Advisor on Finance Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said the government is working on a joint strategy to bring a stimulus package for the areas of economy being hurt due to coronavirus.

 

He said the economic indicators of the country were showing progress before the eruption of coronavirus, but as the global economy is slowing down due to the global pandemic our exports are also likely to be impacted.

 

It could also reduce the foreign remittances received by the country, besides reducing job creation opportunities. Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said a survey is being conducted to understand which industries are hurting the most in this crisis.

 

He said as part of stimulus measures, taxes will be reduced on certain products while subsidies will be given on others. He said disbursements under Ehsaas program will be accelerated so that vulnerable segments of the society are not impacted.

He said he was against the lockdown of cities because of the fact that vendors, daily-wagers and labourers in Pakistan could not survive without earnings. “Our effort, through the economic package, is to bring the lower strata of society into the social network,” he maintained.

 

To another question, Imran Khan said the government was working on the establishment of quarantine facilities in Pakistan for 150,000 expatriates, who were currently trapped in the countries facing the spike of coronavirus, and wanted to come back to their motherland. After the establishment of quarantine facilities by the NDMA within the next two weeks, the government would allow the overseas Pakistanis to travel back to the homeland, he added. Moreover, one ward in all the major hospitals had been specified as an isolation facility, he added.

 

NDMA Chairman Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal told the media that the government had created 1600 bed capacity in nine hospitals with three in Punjab, two in Sindh, one each in Quetta and Gwadar, two in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, one each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and two small hospitals in Gilgit Baltistan.

 

He said currently 12 million masks were available in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, and another 12 million had been booked with different vendors in Pakistan. Around 100,000 masks were available in Peshawar and 50,000 in Balochistan.

 

He said the distribution of around 12,500 suits would start by Saturday for the health workers. Some 2,000 thermal guns had been placed at the entry points of different government departments, while another 30,000 would be imported from China soon.

 

The NDMA chief said they had around 15,000 N-95 masks available in the stock and would receive another 50,000 by Friday night. The Chinese business giant Alibaba had also donated 50,000 masks to Pakistan.

He told the media that around 1700 ventilators were available across the country, with 600 in private hospitals of Sindh, KP and Punjab.

He said the ventilators were not available in the international market, however, with the Chinese help, Pakistan had been able to book around 800 ventilators. The government was in contact with the company to increase the number to 6,000.

 

He said the NDMA was trying to get 1200-1500 ventilators without any delay and hopefully would get 25 ventilators by Saturday.

He said 200,000 N-95 masks had been ordered mainly for the hospital workers. The number of mobile X-rays would also be doubled, he added.

He said three accommodations had been established at all the three entry points at the western border having total capacity of 1,200 single beds and washrooms with the provision of 1,000 more beds.