Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said that there would be no cure for coronavirus this year, and "we will have to live with this virus" that has impacted 150 million in Pakistan, while dismissing the option of completely locking down the country as a precautionary measure against the pandemic.
"The vaccine for coronavirus is not likely to be ready this year. The coronavirus is here to stay. We have to understand this, and we have to live with this," the prime minister said in his address to the nation along with his confidantes.
Responding to the calls from some sections in Pakistan's medical community to go for a complete lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the PM said, "I asked my medical community, can we afford to continue with a complete lockdown for a longer period of time?"
The PM added, "If someone told us to completely lock down the country for one, two or let's say three months and the virus would go away. There wouldn't have been anything better than that....we would have done that. But that the virus would not be going away. The countries like China (in Wuhan), South Korea, Singapore, Germany....They went for a complete lockdown to control the spread of the coronavirus but the virus was back as soon the lockdown was lifted. Is this really a solution?"
The PM said those countries who went for a complete lockdown were developed economies unlike Pakistan.
"But even then we introduced an $8 billion stimulus package for our people, the United States gave $2,200 billion package, Germany 1,000 billion euros package and Japan $1,000 billion package. I ask my medical community, can we sustain the economic fallout of a continued lockdown?"
Citing the figures from Labour Force Survey, which suggested that 25 million labourers are completely dependent on daily or weekly wages to survive, the PM cautioned that more deaths in Pakistan are feared due to starvation and hunger than coronavirus.
"As a prime minister of the country, I think 10 times a day, how will people manage to survive (if the country is shut down completely). It's important that we have to save our people from coronavirus and equally important is that we have to save them from starvation and hunger."
The ongoing Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme that aims to provide Rs12,000 to 12 million deserving families is the largest social welfare initiative in Pakistan's history, the PM said, adding that the creation of Corona Relief Tiger Force aims at providing ration to the deserving people whose livelihoods are affected with the outbreak of the coronavirus. The PM said that the ban on public transport was causing enormous inconvenience to the public and asked the provinces to restore public transport.
Speaking on the occasion, Federal Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar said a phase-wise relaxation in the lockdown measures is being implemented to resume business activities.
In the first phase, he said, pharmaceutical and essential items shops are allowed to open for the facilitation of people.
In the second phase, construction industry was opened, so that people can work and earn their wages.
In the third phase, vehicles and motorcycles manufacturing companies have been allowed to reopen from the coming Monday with the directions to strictly follow the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), he said, adding that the decision to open mega shopping malls has been left to the provinces.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection Dr Sania Nishtar said a category-IV is being introduced in Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme for those people who have lost their livelihoods due to the spread of the coronavirus.
So far, 34,000 applications have been received under category IV, she said, adding that Rs104 billion have been distributed among 8.5 million deserving families under Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme.
Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said, some 100,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics are being trained to enable them properly use Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), while another 5,000 paramedics are being trained to handle and treat coronavirus patients.
The government will make it mandatory for public to wear face masks, he said.
Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said the decision to promote students to the next grades whose exams have been cancelled due to closure of the educational institutes has been taken after consultations with provinces.
The government is resolving the issues related to the students, he said.
Special Assistant to the PM on National Security Dr Moeed Yusuf said more than 23,000 stranded Pakistanis in various countries have been brought back home so far.
He said 48-hour quarantine condition for expatriates coming from abroad has been removed, and the capacity to bring back Pakistani expatriates has been increased.
Some 11,000 to 12,000 people will be brought back every week and priority would be given to stranded poor workers and labourers in the Gulf states, Yusuf said.