The government announced yesterday a stimulus package to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its fragile economy as a nationwide lockdown came into effect.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said the bulk of the money would be spent on monthly handouts to those earning a daily wage, on food and energy subsidies, and on measures to boost agriculture and production.
Pakistan has gone into lockdown as the country’s number of coronavirus cases climbed to 900, leaving tens of thousands of workers earning day wages in construction and manufacturing sectors without a livelihood, Khan said.
“We will have to protect poor and make sure they have food on the table,” the prime minister told a press conference in the capital Islamabad, though he did not announce the size of the stimulus package.
Pakistan’s economy has been suffering from high current account and fiscal deficits, a double digit rate of inflation, low tax income and acute shortfalls in the energy supply.
The South Asian nation has been pursuing a tight fiscal policy under the terms of a $6bn bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Khan said a prolonged lockdown would heap pressure on the country’s resources and indicated that the government would have to seek further assistance from the multilateral and bilateral donors.
Streets were deserted, markets closed and traffic minimal yesterday as Pakistan shuttered all business except those selling food and medicines.
Thousands of troops and police were enforcing the lockdown.
Expressing satisfaction over the availability of food items and other commodities of daily use, Khan approved the economic relief package according to which Rs3,000 (almost $20) would be given to 7mn daily wagers monthly.
The premier also approved a Rs200bn relief package for the exporters.
He directed the authorities concerned to keep a vigilant eye on the entire situation, saying that the poor and the under-privileged should not suffer due to the prevailing circumstances.
On Sunday, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh met Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar to discuss and finalise the contours of the special relief package.
To facilitate the poor, a mobile kitchen soup facility has been launched under the government’s flagship poverty alleviation Ehsas programme.
Nishtar inaugurated the first “Ehsas-Saylani Langar on Wheels” unit at the Faizabad bus station, the junction of twin cities Islamabad-Rawalpindi.
Ehsas and the Saylani Welfare International Trust (SWIT) have joined hands to run the facility, through which cooked food would be provided to the needy, particularly labourers and daily-wage workers.
Mobile vans aimed to combat hunger will discourage people from congregating at one spot for free food collection, and will serve at various points in cities including public places, impoverished neighbourhoods and hospitals, while explicitly ensuring dignity and social distancing for the safety of people.
As people are at the risk of losing income generating opportunities due to the pandemic emergency in the country, this food aid concept will be expanded soon to a bigger, better and faster scale across all major cities of Pakistan as part of the Ehsas framework.
“Feeding the poor and deserving is central to the prime minister’s vision of a welfare state. Ehsas realises that the viral outbreak has exacerbated an escalating poverty that will affect labourers and daily-wage workers the most, as people are being bound to stay at homes,” Nishtar said.
“The Ehsas-Saylani Langar on Wheels will not only address the hunger and nutritional needs of the impoverished, but also provide us with an opportunity to connect with them, respond to their requirements and educate them about precautionary guidelines to fight the war against coronavirus.”
Last year in October, Prime Minister Khan launched the Ehsas-Saylani Langar initiative to provide free food to the poor, labourers and homeless across the country.
Since then, several Ehsas-Saylani Langars have been opened and several others are under construction to feed the poor.
Under the umbrella of Ehsaas, the Langar on Wheels initiative will expand its capacity through public-private partnership to distribute food by removing barriers that prevent access to underserved areas and will allow for fast and flexible delivery in line with precautionary protocols.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan has said that the media has a pivotal role in creating awareness amongst the people about coronavirus.
She said that media workers and journalists are playing the role of vanguard in the fight against coronavirus, adding that the government gives priority to their welfare.
Awan also urged the owners of media organisations to ensure safety and security of the media persons during the discharge of their professional duties.
In another development, the management of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) has decided to shut down its outpatient department (OPD).
With the hospital hosting an isolation and treatment ward for Covid-19 patients, officials explained that this decision was taken to restrict the influx of people at the healthcare facility.
PIMS executive director Dr Anser Maxood chaired a meeting of all departmental heads, during which it was decided to convert medical ward-II into an isolation facility.
The patients of this ward will be shifted to another ward.
Apart from this, three floors of the private ward will also be converted into a quarantine facility.
Further, 30 beds of the dentistry department will also be utilised to treat Covid-19 patients.
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