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Staff Report

Pakistan Today

Published Date: May 3, 2020

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/05/03/fate-of-lockdown-to-be-decided-after-ncc-meeting-asad-umar/

Govt says lockdown will remain intact, may ease some restrictions

ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Sunday said that the restrictions imposed to curb the infection would continue to remain intact in the country due to the rising number of coronavirus, however, a decision regarding ease in the lockdown to facilitate the businesses will be taken on May 9.

As of Sunday 11 pm, the country’s coronavirus cases stood at 20,130 with 5,114 recoveries and 459 deaths. Punjab had 7,494 cases, followed closely by Sindh with 7,465. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) had 3,129 cases, Balochistan 1,218 Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) 393, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) 356 and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) 67.

Addressing a press conference at the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) in Islamabad, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said that Prime Minister Imran Khan will be briefed on the current COVID-19 situation in the next few days, assuring that any decision with regard to the national quarantine will be taken after consulting all the stakeholders.

Commenting on the severity of the epidemic in the country, Umar noted that the coronavirus situation in Pakistan was not “as fatal” as it was in the rest of the world especially the West — which the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared as the new epicentre of the pandemic.

He compared Pakistan’s death rates to that of the rest of the world. “The coronavirus has caused 58 per cent more deaths in the United States, 201 per cent more in Spain and 124 per cent more in the United Kingdom,” he said.

Referring to the foreign media’s focus on the concept of “flattening the curve”, Umar explained that countries worldwide were “not focusing on eliminating the virus but on controlling it”. He added that even they have realised that the actions needed to eliminate the virus would be “too strict for the people to bear”.

Speaking about Pakistan’s situation, Umar said that the country was reporting 24 deaths daily on average for the past few weeks and if this was extended to a month, it would amount to nearly 720 deaths per month. “Comparatively some 4,000 people die in traffic accidents across the country each month. But we still allow traffic because it is necessary,” he said.

“If we focus on bringing deaths due to coronavirus to zero, we have to realise that we cannot bear the measures it would take [to do that],” he added.

‘FOOD CONSUMPTION REDUCED AMID EPIDEMIC’:

Talking about the impact of coronavirus on poverty and hunger, Umar cited a research by Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) which showed that between 20 million to 70 million people could fall below the poverty line. He added that according to PIDE’s calculations, 18 million people could lose their jobs due to COVID-19.

He added that a recent Gallup survey found that one in four Pakistanis saw a reduction in their diets because of the virus.

Umar underscored the economic devastation caused by the virus, saying that while the virus was not as fatal in Pakistan as in other countries, its economic impact was worse.

“We have seen revenues decrease by Rs119 billion in just one month. Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) has shown that some 1 million small organisations might shut down permanently,” he said.

He added that research by a renowned university revealed that “the cost imposed by economic and social distancing may be large in terms of immediate deprivation and hunger”. Quoting another Gallup survey, he said that Pakistanis’ livelihoods were more affected by the virus than the people of any other country.

LIFTING LOCKDOWN NOT AN OPTION:

However, he added that the government could not “open everything and ease the lockdown completely” to prevent the healthcare system from being overburdened. “The two most important factors to consider here are the number of beds in intensive care units (ICUs) and the number of ventilators,” he said.

Umar said that there were nearly 5,000 beds in ICUs across the country, of which 1,500 were dedicated for virus patients. He added that the country also has 5,000 ventilators and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was trying to import even more.

“We will discuss with the prime minister within two to three days and then take a decision in the National Coordination Committee (NCC) meeting about restrictions after May 9 [when the lockdown is due to end],” he said.

PUBLIC HEALTHCARE NEEDS IMPROVEMENT:

Umar said that what the government has to do is to “continue increasing the health capacity. Our health capacity has increased a lot from a few months ago and we will continue working to increase that”.

Adding that the government received a “splendid response” from public and private manufacturers, he said that the country was producing personal protective equipment locally. “We have also received some great, workable designs for ventilators,” he said.

The minister added that the government also needed to increase the testing capacity. “We have 55 laboratories that can conduct virus tests. If they work in single shifts, we can conduct some 14,700 tests every day which is close to our target of 20,000. If we do double shifts, we can also double the number the tests that can be conducted daily,” he said.

Umar added that even countries in Europe where thousands of deaths occurred such as Spain, Italy and France have started easing lockdowns to keep the “wheel of the economy turning”.

“What is important is that we do not burden our healthcare system while also preventing hunger and poverty,” Umar concluded.