Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that the government will continuously keep the nation updated about the coronavirus situation and that accurate information would be shared with the public.
Speaking with senior media-persons in Islamabad, he said that the government is working on an economic package to protect the people, industry, and the country’s economy from the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The prime minister said that the package, to be announced on Tuesday, is being prepared by finance ministry, in consultation and co-ordination with the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
Khan said that the economic package includes incentives for the construction sector and is aimed at protecting small industries and the people from lower strata of the society.
Meanwhile, President Dr Arif Alvi has thanked all political parties for avoiding confrontational discussion and taking steps towards a united front to fight Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“Great nations show their mettle in difficult times and emerge stronger. We will, too,” he wrote on his Twitter handle.
The president mentioned that a “positive shift is also visible in the press, electronic and social media” on dealing with the issue of Covid-19.
A day earlier Alvi appealed to the nation and political parties to set aside their differences to meet the challenge of the coronavirus.
In a bid to muster political support, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had contacted Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazlur (JUI-F) leader Maulana Asad Mehmood, and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) leaders Rana Tanvir Hussain and Khawaja Mohamed Asif.
According to a report, the contact was made to discuss the formation of a parliamentary committee to oversee government efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic as it spreads across Pakistan.
Qaiser, in his conversation with political leaders, sought names for the committee.
According to sources, the committee will comprise members from all parliamentary parties, both government as well as opposition, and from both the houses of parliament.
Sources further added that two-thirds of the members of the committee will be from the National Assembly, and the rest from the senate.
The decision to form the committee was taken during a meeting between Prime Minister Khan and Qaiser on Thursday.
While speaking with the PPP chairman, Qaiser said that all must fight the pandemic together and send a message to the nation that the entire political leadership of the country is united at this critical juncture.
Bhutto Zardari, while extending his party’s support to the cause, said that the epidemic and the resulting health crisis needed to be tackled together.
While speaking with PML-N leaders Hussain and Asif, Qaiser noted that the coronavirus, apart from affecting the health of the people, would also adversely affect the economy of the country.
“The country can face a multitude of challenges in the coming days,” the Speaker warned.
In response to Qaiser, the PML-N leaders agreed on the need for unity.
The PML-N leaders also assured Qaiser that they will give names of their party representatives for the committee following consultations with the party leadership.
Meanwhile Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar has approved the setting up of a field hospital of 1,000-bed capacity at the Lahore Expo Centre.
Chairing a meeting of the cabinet committee in Lahore, he announced funds of Rs8bn for the Health Department and the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA).
The Punjab government will also distribute a minimum of 14 days’ rations among families under quarantine due to the coronavirus.
The distribution of rations will start this weekend among 777 families of Deera Ghazi Khan and 1,247 families of Multan.
Yesterday Pakistan announced that it is suspending for a fortnight all international passenger flights into and out of the country in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are suspending international flight operations effective tonight at 8pm (1500 GMT),” the prime minister’s special assistant on national security, Moeed Yusuf, told an Islamabad press briefing. “No international flights will be allowed to land in Pakistan for two weeks.”
This includes all flight carriers, not just those of the Pakistan International Airline (PIA). Earlier, the PIA had said all international departures were being suspended till March 28.
As of yesterday, Pakistan had tested 4,046 people for the virus, with 524 positive cases, and three deaths.
Yusuf said that a few flights already en route to Pakistan would be allowed to land this morning, adding that diplomats coming to Pakistan as well as cargo planes would be exempted.
He conceded that the suspension will “certainly create problems”, as Pakistan is expecting more than 200,000 passengers, including tourists, by the end of March.
Observers fear the virus could spread quickly in the country of 215mn people, where healthcare is frequently inadequate.
Pakistan’s porous borders, creaking hospitals, a culture of shaking hands and hugging, and large illiterate populations in crowded urban centres mean containing the crisis would be a huge challenge.
To prevent the virus’s transmission, Islamabad has closed the Afghan and Iranian borders, shuttered wedding halls, and stopped schools for the remainder of the month.
However, Prime Minister Khan said early this week that Pakistan cannot afford the type of urban lockdowns currently underway in the West.
Pakistan Railways has meanwhile decided to suspend the operations of 22 more trains from March 25.
In a video message, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid said that the decision was taken due to the drop in passenger numbers from 200,000 to 160,000 per day.
He said that altogether 34 trains operations are being suspended until further notice.
The minister said that 134 trains had been in operation earlier, but now the number would be cut to 100 trains per day.
However, he added, operations of 12 to 15 freight trains would not be curtailed.
The minister said that passengers of those suspended trains could travel by any other train on the same date in the same class according to their ticket.
He said that tickets could also be refunded if any passenger opted not to travel.
“An amount of Rs80mn has been refunded so far,” Rashid added.
The minister said that Pakistan Railways had made extraordinary cleaning arrangements at railway stations across the country to tackle the coronavirus threat.
The 22 trains, which will be suspended from March 25, include the Jinnah Express train, the Sir Syed Express, the Bolan Mail train, the Moenjo Daro Express, the Thal Express, the Marvi Passenger, the Musa Pak Express, the Chenab Express, the Faisalabad Express, the Saman Sarkar Passenger, and the Faisal Express train.
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