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Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah while addressing a press conference at Sindh Assembly building said that there was a dire need of unity and identical narrative to fight against coronavirus, otherwise we would not be able to get rid of this epidemic.

"This is a war and in the war only those nations win who demonstrate national unity, cohesion, take timely decisions with collective wisdom."

He was accompanied by his cabinet members, Azra Pechuho, Saeed Ghani, Nasir Shah, Imtiaz Shaikh, Advisor Murtaza Wahab and MNA Qadir Patel.

He said that on Feb 26 first case of coronavirus was diagnosed and we had closed the schools for four days and the PSL matches were allowed without spectators. He added that on March 13, the cabinet decided to close the schools upto May 31.

"We had started talking to Ulemas to minimise prayers in jamaat and on March 16 decision was taken to close restaurants, suspended operation of intra and inter-cities passenger transport but kept the grocery and vegetable shops allowed to operate.

Shah said that on March 22, the cabinet decided to impose lockdown but before it we had taken all the stakeholders, including political parties, within and without parliament, traders, WHO and doctors into confidence. "In other words, we had imposed lockdown on February 29 when first case of the virus was detected," he said.

The chief minister brushed aside the impression of imposing lockdown just to show difference of opinion with the federal government. He recalled that the lockdown from April 1 to April 14 and even upto May 9 was announced by the federal government.

"Some of our friends [PTI] started talking against Sindh government for imposing the lockdown," he said and told them that by addressing such press briefings they were trying to belittle their federal government which imposed lockdown in consultation with all the provincial governments, including the AK government.

"Yes, the federal government has given flexibility to the provinces to take decisions regarding further tightening the lockdown keeping in view their ground realities.

"I am categorically telling each and every one that the Sindh government has implemented 99.9 percent decisions the federal government has taken in consultation with the provinces," he said and asked then why his detractors were blaming his government of imposing lockdown and keep misguiding different communities and traders.

Post-May 9 measures: The chief minister said on May 6, an NCC meeting was held under Federal Minister Asad Umar. He along with other chief ministers had attended the meeting through video link. He added that a day before the meeting draft recommendations for post May 9 measures were shared with all the provinces so that a meaningful discussion could be held.

The recommendations include as follows:

Economic activity: The chief minister said that it include opening of Phase-II of construction industries and community markets/retail outlets. He added that additional opening of sectors in phase-II were shops in rural areas, neighbourhood shops situated in residential localities/standalone shops, excluding malls, large market places, mega departmental stores.

Shops/markets, other than pharmacies opening time to be limited till 5 pm, Saturday and Sunday to be declared as a 'safe day' with all sectors/retail closed other than essential sectors or those with a continuous process.

Selective OPDs would also be allowed to operate. However, timing of shops opening was recommended after Fajir till 5 pm as per discretion of the provinces and there would be a total closure at night.

Shah said that we, all the provinces, gave our input and 90 percent agreed with the recommendations. He added that on May 6 we received revised recommendations in the meeting chaired by the prime minister.

I told the prime minister that we have to take decisions keeping in view the data and ground realities. The emotional decisions, if taken at any stage, would bear no fruit, he said.

In the [PM] meeting references of West and other countries were given.

The chief minister with the help of graphics he presented on the TV screen during his press conference discussed thoroughly the condition of Western countries and the talked about their decisions of imposing lockdown and easing it off.

Iran: The Iran started diagnosing coronavirus cases from Feb 19/20 but they decided to impose lockdown on March 14 and by the time 987 cases had been detected there. He added that their situation went from bad to worse when around 3000 cases were being detected daily. Finally, when their cases started declining and death ration came down they started easing off the lockdown.

Germany: On March 21/22 they decided to impose lockdown because their cases started increasing. Now they have started relaxing the lockdown when their cases dropped down along with death ratio.

Italy: In Italy Covid-19 cases started appearing on February 24/25 and when they diagnosed 1600 cases which within a few days reached to 6000 they imposed lockdown on March 10. He added that now they were giving relaxation when their cases have dropped.

USA: Shah said that In America, they mishandled the situation as they themselves have been conceding in the media. He added that cases started emerging in America between March 10 to 14 but they imposed lockdown very late when over 1800 cases emerged there between March 27 to 29. He said it turned out to be their mistake by imposing lockdown very late and faced huge losses.

National Unity: The chief minister said that we are in state of war. In the war situation things are dealt differently but what was needed in the war was national unity. He added that the national unity was demonstrated when war against terror was launched and National Action plan was initiated.

He deplored that despite doing his best he was being criticised without any solid reason and rationale.

Pakistan: He said that on Feb 26 when we had detected the first case we had imposed lockdown on the same day. "Our cases remained comparatively low because of lockdown. When we had imposed the lockdown all other provinces keeping in view their ground realities followed Sindh and imposed lockdown that is why we have fewer cases than the other countries," he said.

Shah said that on April 14 we decided to open some shops and then we witnessed spike in cases. "The priority is to avoid death stemming from coronavirus rather than allowing other activities," he said.

He said that first death in Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan was reported on March 18. He said that cases in Balochistan have increased. Cases in KPK have also spiked from 13-14 percent to 15.9 percent, Punjab cases have also shown an increase from 8.6 percent to 18.4 percent and Sindh was 12 and today it has reached 12.8 percent "I am quite upset and I can't say things are under control."

Dr Furqan's death: Talking about the death of Dr Furqan, the chief minister expressed his deep sorrow and grief. He said that such incidents should not happen. "I really sorry for him, we have taken action against responsible person," he said and added, "in such a crisis situation such issues take place." He said our health sector was better than the other provinces.

He said that he knew the pinch of pain when our dear one passes away. "I am feeling the pain of Dr Furqan," he said.

He said that his government was implementing the regime the federal government has formulated in consultation with all the provinces particularly in respect of lockdown.

Registration of daily wagers: Shah said that he told the prime minister [in the meeting] that we should have registered the daily wagers through a help line. "The registered people could have been verified through NADRA data for giving them financial assistance," he said and added it was our, Sindh and federal government, big mistake.

He added that the provincial and federal governments would have jointly supported the daily wagers instead of allowing them to start their work and put them and their families' life on risk.

Shah said that Sindh government has already opened 676 industrial units. He added that for opening an industrial units application was not required as was discussed in the Supreme Court. "We have issued SOPs and the industrialist has to submit some undertakings, including name of labourer, CNIC, mobile number, home address so that they could be helped in case of any attack by the virus.

Sectors to remain closed: The chief minister said that the sectors that would continue to remain closed include all industries/businesses not cleared for opening till May 9, shopping malls, plazas, educational institutions, offices not cleared for opening till May 9, restaurants, hotels, marquees, marriage halls, cinemas and places of large gatherings, public processions, gatherings, congregations of all nature and organised sports events and concerts. "This decision was taken by the federal government in consultation with the provinces," he said.

Retail shops: The chief minister said that our traders were in serious crisis. "I would request the federal govt to give them loans on easy instalments so that they could revive their businesses," he said and added we were in close contact with traders' community. "This is not closure from our side but it is a collective decision taken at national level," he said.

Committee for Traders: The chief minister disclosed that he had constituted a committee of provincial Ministers, Saeed Ghani, Imtiaz Shaikh, Murtaza Wahab and Mayor Karachi. The committee would meet with the small traders and listen to them and compile their recommendations for revival of their business. "We want the small traders be given loans with easy instalments, he said and added the federal government has announced a scheme but the traders were not happy.

Offices to remain closed: The chief minister said that the government offices would remain closed as usual.

He said that his government was implementing the regime the federal government has formulated in consultation with all the provinces particularly in respect of lockdown.

Q&A: Replying to a question Shah said that his government was enhancing testing capacity from 4500 to 7000 testing. "Actually, you must have kits when you enhance your testing capacity," he said and added the testing kits have four components and if one of the component was missing means you would not be able to conduct test.

COVID-19 Hospital: The chief minister announced that he was establishing a 400-beded hospital dedicated for the patients of coronavirus at NIPA. "This hospital will have 100 ventilators and will also be equipped with all the required gadgets and technical staff," he said and added the project would be completed within three months.

NFC: Replying to a question about NFC, the chief minister said that it was out of season song. "Yes, NFC should be reviewed but only for betterment such as handing over sales tax on goods to the provinces," he said and added his government has already submitted a number of proposals with the federal government.

Majalis: Replying to a question about Youm-i-Ali procession, Shah said that under the SOPs as announced by the federal government, in consultation with the provinces, all kind of Majalis, processions and congregations were banned.

COVID-19 situation in Sindh: Briefing the media the chief minister said that for the first time 5532 samples were tested against which 598 cases have been detected. "This constitutes 10.8 percent ratio of the cases diagnosed against 5532 tests," he said and added, "this is the highest ratio since Feb 29 when first case was detected."

Shah said that the testing capacity has been increased to 5600 per day and we had operated it at 98.8 percent of its capacity by conducting 5532 tests. He added that so far 81,610 tests have been conducted against which 9691 were diagnosed as positive.

Talking about causalities, the chief minister said that five more patients succumbed to the virus infection. He said that with five more death the death toll has reached to 176 which was 1.8 percent of the total patients.

Giving details of the 7575 patients under treatments, the chief minister said that 6421 were in home isolation, 627 at isolation centres and 527 at different hospitals. "I am sorry to say that 164 were in critical condition, of them 18 or 17.2 percent are on ventilators," he said and urged the people to pray for their early recovery.

Karachi: Sindh chief minister said that Karachi has 413 new cases, of them district South has 107, East 98, Central 73, Malir 58, Korangi 47 and West 30 cases. Hyderabad has 40 cases, Shaheed Benazirabad 20, Shikarpur 11, Larkana 10, nine each in Sukkur and Matiari.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020

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