ISLAMABAD - Assuring their full support in the war against coronavirus (COVID-19), the parliamentary leaders in the National Assembly and Senate yesterday agreed to form a Parliamentary Committee on coronavirus.

All the parliamentary parties of both houses [National Assembly and Senate] shared the names from their parties which will participate in the special committee on coronavirus. The names for the special committee will be notified this week.  A sub-Committee will be set up to formulate Terms of Reference (ToRs) of the Parliamentary Committee. This was decided in a meeting of the parliamentary leaders in the National Assembly and Senate held in Parliament House, with Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser in the chair.

Concluding the session, Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that they all have to defeat the challenge with mutual efforts.  “World is for the first time experiencing this big challenge…So it will definitely take time to defeat COVID-19,” he said mentioning that political inclusion will help in defeating this challenge.

Responding to the questions raised by the opposition, the Minister said it was a difficult but necessary decision to not evacuate Pakistani students from China. “China, as a solidarity gesture, is sharing equipment to prevent the spread of the virus”. About imposition of curbs on Pakistani media, he said that this government has no plans to gag media.

Qureshi said that the government was fulfilling its obligations in coordination with provincial governments.  However, he said that positive criticism will help the government to better deal with the situation. He said that Chinese leadership acknowledges the help Pakistan had extended during the whole crisis, thus they have wholeheartedly extended support to the government of Pakistan in terms of equipment, medicine and other supplies required to fight this pandemic.

Speaker Asad Qaiser, in his opening remarks opined that coronavirus pandemic had posed serious threats to the health of people across the globe, besides inflicting serious harm to the world economies, and Pakistan was not an exception. He said that the purpose of this parliamentary discourse was to collectively brainstorm and forge policies and guidelines for the government. The Speaker appreciated the steps that the Federal government, provincial governments and the governments of Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan had initiated for taking care of the effected people besides curtailing its spread.

He thanked all the parliamentary leaders for their valuable input. The Speaker informed the participants that the names from the Treasury and the Opposition for the Parliamentary Committee on coronavirus had been received and the Committee will be notified in due course of time. He further said that he will constitute a Sub-Committee to formulate Terms of Reference (ToRs) of the Parliamentary Committee so that the Committee may focus constructively on the issue.

There was a general consensus among the participants that the fight against coronavirus could be won through collective efforts. They were of the view that doctors and paramedics were vulnerable as they were on the forefront; therefore, they should be equipped properly. The participants also suggested taking care of the vulnerable and marginalized segments of the society through government schemes for social protection.

However, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and Chairman PPP-P Bilawal Bhutto Zardari walked out from the meeting when the Prime Minister left the session after his address. They said Imran Khan should have listened to their viewpoint.

“Is this his [Prime Minister] level of seriousness? He did not think it important to participate in the full session,” said opposition leader in the national assembly. He said the country is faced with the worst calamity in history so Prime Minister should have attended whole session.

Other members of the PPP and PML-N, however, continued their participation in the session.

The participants from opposition parties stressed that there should be a national approach, with no province left out of the consultative loop.  They also asked the Prime Minister to immediately call a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) on a daily basis, so that all federating units are taken on board and no one is left out.

PML-N’s Parliamentary leader Khawaja Muhammad Asif said that there was a need to conduct an inquiry about pilgrims returning from Iran through Taftan, as the virus mainly spread in the country from this route. He said that there was a need of spreading awareness in public and equipped doctors fighting with this infectious virus.

PML-N’s Mushahid Ullah criticized government for not taking necessary measures before the spread of coronavirus in different parts of country. ‘Despite its dangerous effects, government has no proper preparation to deal with it,” he said.

PPP-P’s Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said that there was a need to deal with this challenge with consensus. “Government should actively deal with this big issue,” he said and asked the reasons for not evacuating Pakistani students from China.

JUI-F’s Senator Ghafoor Haideri said that there was a need of unity among political ranks. “Prime Minister should have attended the whole the session and listened to the recommendations of parliamentary leaders,” he said.

Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza and Chairman NDMA briefed the meeting about the present stage of pandemic and the relief measures of the government.

The meeting was attended by Federal Ministers Asad Umar, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pervaiz Khattak ,Dr. Fehmida Mirza, Minister of State Ali Muhammad Khan, Deputy Chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwala, Leader of the House Senate Shibli Faraz, Special Assistant to PM on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza, MNAs Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Nawabzada Shahzain Bughti, Ms. Shahida Akthar Ali, Senators Mushahid Ullah Khan, Anwar ul Haq Kakar, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hyderi, Usman Khan Kakar, Aurangzeb Khan, Ms. Sitara Ayaz, and Chairman NDMA.