Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar has said that it is essential for the government to strike a balance between preventing the spread of the coronavirus and keeping the economy running.
The minister expressed these views during a joint press conference with Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza after the first meeting of the National Command Center was held here on Tuesday to discuss national response against the coronavirus pandemic.
The minister said that Rs50 billion were being allocated for the Utility Stores Cooperation to ensure provision of all food items to general public across the country.
He said that the government had created a mechanism through the National Coordination Committee (NCC) and the National Command Centre to monitor utility stores throughout the country.
Umar also said that the government would ensure that some remote areas in the country that previously imported goods from Iran received all the essential items.
He also ensured provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to all medical staff working in various hospitals.
Umar said that the number of labs that could carry out tests for coronavirus had increased from 13 to 30, and would increase to 32 in the coming days. He added that the current testing capacity was 280,000, which was expected to increase to 900,000 by April 15.
Umar said that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had distributed 16,700 PPEs to hospitals in every province of the country, and it aimed to get the PPEs to doctors all across Pakistan by April 5.
Umar said that in a country such as Pakistan, "if we say we won't have a lockdown at all, the disease will spread very fast and people will start losing jobs because they will be too sick."
He said that, "if we enforce the lockdown by force, people won't get food and then there is no way, they will not come out on the streets and our efforts to control the spread will fail."
Umar said that during the last NCC meeting, "we decided to increase cooperation on an operational level to ensure that voices of the provinces are heard at the federal level, and federal decisions are easily communicated to the provinces."
The minister urged the nation not to treat coronavirus patients like "criminals"."
He said that it would lead to people not reporting symptoms out of fear.
Umar asked the authorities to ensure that it did not happen.
Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar said that the Cabinet had approved an Economic Stimulus and Relief Package, which had already been approved by the Economic Coordination Committee a day earlier.
He said that the package included: (i) Rs200 billion for daily-wagers, (ii) arrangements to delay interest payments on loans by six months for industries, (iii) increased quota of deserving people, (iv) Rs50 billion for utility stores, (v) Reduced petrol and diesel prices, and (vi) Increased number of labs and testing kits.
Azahar said that it was important to continue production of essential items and to keep such industries and their value-chain industries running.
He said that there was no need for hoarding and panic-buying.
Azhar said that, "we have made lists of retailers, manufacturers and industries that produce these items."
He said that, "we have distributed these lists to provinces (which were compiled with their help)... that these industries need to continue production, and we need to ensure that raw material and the labour needed are given to them."
Dr Zafar Mirza said that reports of patients being looked at as "criminals" were "extremely saddening".
He added that this would scare people and they would not come forward to report cases, and thus harm the government's efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
Dr Mirza said that the government would also acquire a synthesiser in a few weeks, which would enable the country to start producing testing kits on its own.
Dr Mirza said that the government would issue two sets of guidelines - for the people who would work in those industries, and the people who would go out to buy essential items, on its website on Wednesday.
He said that that there had been a big increase in the number of suspected patients in the last 24 hours, and urged the people to follow the preventive measures announced by the government to stop the spread of the disease.