150,000 Pakistanis stuck at borders amid coronavirus scare: Imran

Says can’t go for lockdown as it will hurt poor: Warns of health services breakdown if 4pc population is infected

By: News Desk      Published: 06:13 PM, 20 Mar, 2020
150,000 Pakistanis stuck at borders amid coronavirus scare: Imran

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday revealed that around 0.15 million (150,000) Pakistanis were currently stuck at the borders and it would take at least another two weeks to have the facilities to allow them back in Pakistan.

He warned that the country was facing two possible threats – an exponential spike in the number of cases and the social anarchy – amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He said 4 to 5 percent population would require ICU facilities in case the coronavirus spread reached maximum threat level, which the country’s health system could not sustain.

About social anarchy, Imran said no one could predict what would happen in the next three or six months; therefore, media should play its role by avoiding sensation and sharing factual information with the people.

He said the government was planning incentives for the construction sector to generate employment opportunities, while he will also announce an economic package on Tuesday.

Talking to a select group of anchors, the prime minister, to prove his point, said even a developed country Italy was facing the shortage of equipment like ventilators and beds in the hospitals. On the other hand, there were long lines of people in the US to buy arms, he added.

He ruled out a complete lockdown, saying that the federal government would not do the same as the economic impact will be disastrous.

Imran said he did not agree with the Sindh government’s lockdown plan as the country could not afford it due to the economic conditions.

He said that the government had shut down cinemas and barred people from gathering at public places; however, a complete lockdown will prove difficult for the poor.

Imran said Italy and other countries that had imposed a lockdown could do so, as their per capita income was much higher than Pakistan's. He said that it was important to keep the economy afloat and at the same time, keep people safe from the pandemic

The prime minister said that his government would not 'censor' anything from the masses, saying that if authorities were not transparent on cases emerging throughout the country, then it will be difficult to treat them.

He also expressed disappointment over fingers being pointed at Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan for the spread of the virus from Taftan.

He said the Balochistan chief minister took all the necessary steps within the available resources and was in constant contact with the federal government. It was not time for blame game and people should show unity instead, he added.

The prime minister said the government had been in contact with Chinese authorities ever since the virus broke out in Wuhan late last year.

He said social distancing was "very important" to contain the virus, advising people not to go to public places. "The best thing you can do is self-quarantine instead of going to hospitals," he said.

"Practice self-isolation rather than going to hospitals. Stay at home if you demonstrate symptoms and keep away from the elderly," he said.

Imran also urged the media from spreading panic, saying that chaos and anarchy was an even bigger threat than the coronavirus.

He said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) will provide guidelines to ensure news channels did not spread panic. He said that supermarkets in Europe were running out of products due to panic buying and warned that such a situation can take place in Pakistan as well.

"No one can sit here and say what the situation of a coronavirus will be [in Pakistan] one month from now,” he added.

Imran said that the media had a big role to play in ensuring that news reports were handled responsibly to avoid chaos and panic.

"Panic will cause more damage than the virus ... if people start panic buying, what the government can do?" he said.

Also present at the media talk were Finance Adviser Hafeez Shaikh, Special Assistant on Health Zafar Mirza, NDMA Chairman Lt-Gen Muhammad Afzal and ISPR DG Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar.

Sheikh said the government was working on a three-prong strategy: provision of all the necessary equipment to the health staff, relief for the affected businesses and people, and finalising a stimulus package.

Speaking on the occasion, the NDMA chief said new 1,600-bed isolation capacity had been created at nine hospitals in different cities besides reserving one ward at every big hospital in the country.

He promised provision of all the necessary equipment and personal gear for the health sector staff and said 800 ventilators had been booked for import from China, while the number could reach 6,000 in the coming months.

He also claimed that the country would soon be able to conduct nine million coronavirus tests.