Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday the government had decided not to go for a complete lockdown amid the second wave of coronavirus pandemic but warned that it would not allow the opposition to hold public gatherings and risk people’s lives.
Accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar and provincial cabinet members here, the prime minister told reporters that the government was concerned over coronavirus cases surge, pointing out that more than 50 people lost their lives during the last 24 hours because of the disease.
He said the government had decided not to impose a complete lockdown and shut factories and businesses in order to protect the poor population and the economy from the severe consequences. However, he added, non-essential sectors and public gatherings would be suspended to rein in the pandemic.
Because of the rising Covid-19 cases, the prime minister said, that pressure was increasing on public health facilities. He said that the government was concerned about the virus threat to doctors, nurses and other health workers, particularly in the urban centres.
In just two weeks, Imran said, coronavirus fatalities surged from eight or nine to 50. Because of the rising cases, he added, the government has called off its own public gathering and important events until the pandemic threat was reined in.
“But the opposition is trying to risk people’s lives,” Imran said, referring to the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) anti-government rallies. “How so many gatherings they hold they will not get any NRO [political amnesty given by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007],” he said.
“Even the Islamabad High Court [IHC] has also ruled against the public gatherings just because of the coronavirus risk,” Imran continued, appealing to the nation to keep observing coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs).
About the first wave, the prime minister noted that there were fewer deaths in Pakistan compared with the neighbouring countries like India. Also, he added that the national economy was back on track within minimum possible time.
“The Pakistani economy is progressing at a better rate in the region with increased exports, well performing industries and appreciating currency,” he said, adding: “But I fear, our hospitals will come under pressure and economy will suffer too, if we did not adhere to the precautions.”
The prime minister advised factory owners, shopkeepers and others to ensure strict observance of the SOPs, particularly the wearing of face masks, which, he said, was the easiest tool to contain the virus. He also urged the Ulema and other opinion makers to take responsibility of saving the nation from the deadly disease by impressing upon the people to follow precautions.
The prime minister, in response to a question about the recognition of Israel, said that Pakistan did not face any international pressure on the issue and still stood by the position taken by the founder of the nation, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in 1948.
Imran Khan said that the government’s successful foreign policy initiatives were being appreciated at the world level and Pakistan’s acceptance had significantly increased internationally. He highlighted Pakistan’s successful diplomatic initiatives such as exposing India at the world level, positive role in the Afghan peace process, and improved relations with Afghanistan.
The prime minister said that Pakistan, which was being asked to “do more” in the past, had now been appreciated by the world, including the United States, for its positive role in achieving peace in the region, including Afghanistan. Pakistan also enjoyed good relations with Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he added.
Khan said that currently, Pakistan’s exports were better than those of India and Bangladesh. Faisalabad’s textile industry was running at full capacity and even fell short of the labour, he added. “All major economic indicators are showing positive trends,” he said. “Pakistan’s economy is growing fast in the Subcontinent, and it is on the right path.”
Imran said that the current account deficit, which was at $20 billion when the present government came to power, had been turned into surplus for the first time in 17 years. “The exports are rising, and the government has curbed the huge trade deficit of $40 billion.”
When asked about price-hike, Imran explained how mafias and cartels had manipulated the situation to make money out of the shortage and low produce of the commodities, particularly wheat because of untimely rains and bad weather over the last two years due to climate change.
The prime minister, however, mentioned that owing to the government’s effective measures including the import of sugar and wheat, prices of the two vital commodities – wheat and sugar – had witnessed a decline.
Imran said that the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development and Bundal Islanad were two crucial projects to stop the haphazard spread of Lahore and Karachi. “Cities like Lahore will face severe problems of water, sewerage and pollution if the government did not establish new ones,” he said.
He pointed out that Lahore had spread one-and-half times in just 20 years with fast depleting water table, while 70% of the green cover dissipating. “Even if the government does not execute the Ravi Riverfront project, the Lahore city will touch that project area – but in a haphazard way without any planning and further polluting the River Ravi,” he added.
The prime minister said that the major objective was to protect Karachi and Lahore as these two projects would go vertical. He added that if the cities continued to grow at the current pace, the green cover would reduce and bring food insecurity.
He said the Bundal Island would be developed as a modern city to protect mangroves forest, treat the sewerage water and protect Karachi from an ill-planned growth. Besides, the development, both the projects would also bring in the foreign exchange as the overseas Pakistanis were eying to invest in them, which would also create job opportunities, he added.
Imran said that the government had launched a crackdown against land grabbers in Lahore, which had the backing of some political parties in the past. “You will soon hear cries from the qabza mafia in Lahore,” he remarked and added the government would soon take a big action against land grabbers and encroachers in the provincial capital.