Prime Minister Imran Khan held a special television briefing for the Corona Relief Tiger Force on Friday, telling them to spread awareness about coronavirus among people far and wide in the country, as “Pakistan cannot endure another lockdown”.
“This country cannot undergo another lockdown. That’s why we need you to spread awareness,” the premier said, addressing members of the force.
The premier’s briefing came as the country’s tally of infections shot past 90,000 and deaths surged to more than 1,800.
The premier said that owing to the epidemic, the country had already experienced a loss of approximately Rs800bn in revenue and hinted at an austere budget for the coming year where expenses “will have to be drastically reduced”.
Acknowledging the enthusiasm displayed by those who have volunteered this far, he said the force will now be provided identification cards so they can go to hotspots and distribute food if those areas are closed off.
The premier said the force’s help will also be sought to combat the locust attacks.
PM Imran said that another challenge the youth force’s assistance will be required for is the “Clean and Green Pakistan” initiative under which their full participation in tree plantation will be sought.
He said that not only will plantation occur in forest areas where tree cover has been depleted, but is sorely needed in city areas.
The Tiger Force will also “keep an eye on Utility Stores” where they will report price hikes and also inform administration about hoarding of items.
“The real purpose you have is to keep our people protected and to help them. We will keep briefing you on further duties,” the prime minister said.
PM lauds Tiger Force members
The premier said that he lauds the work of 175,000 workers — out of the more than 1 million who had registered — “who stepped up and assisted the government” thus far.
“We needed a force which can go to the people and tell them how important it is to follow SOPs as we slowly eased the lockdown,” he said.
“We needed them to see to the implementation of SOPs that were conditional to the reopening of the economy.”
He said that it is the responsibility of managers and owners of businesses to implement SOPs and the volunteer force has to ensure the safety protocols are followed. “Everyone does not understand what the coronavirus is and why we need to be cautious.”
PM Imran said that Pakistan was “the only Muslim country to keep mosques open for tarawih prayers in Ramadan” subject to the following of SOPs by worshippers. He thanked the ulema for being particular about this and for “demonstrating caution”.
Speaking of “more than 3,000 mosques” in Sialkot, he said that the relatively small police force would not have been as effective in seeing to the implementation of SOPs and that the Force had proved instrumental in this regard. “They went to mosques and spread awareness,” he said, terming it “a big achievement”.
Pakistan ‘remained safe’
He said that there had been a hue and cry by opponents to the view that mosques had been kept open. “We did not see an outbreak in Ramadan due to mosques. And now we see mosques are being opened the world over.”
Addressing the Tiger Force members directly, he said that it was important to realise that the country is at a critical juncture where if people understand the importance of following SOPs “we will be saved from the crisis that has befallen many countries”.
“I will give my people credit and our team who sat down every single day to assess the situation. Due to the steps we took since the beginning, we remained safe,” the premier said.
He said that today, in Brazil, 1,350 deaths were witnessed and that the figure in US is “more than 2,000 in a day”. “The same is true for Britain and Italy and Spain, where 1,500-2,000 deaths occur in a day.
“In Pakistan, in the last three months, we have seen 1,750 deaths and of course the number (in a single day) has increased, which we knew would happen as we ease the lockdown,” PM Imran said.
He said that the Tiger Force’s “greatest contribution” would be to spread awareness, so the rise in cases is “not as rapid”.
‘Poverty shot up due to lockdowns’
“If we do a lockdown again, you must remember the impact will always befall the poor people,” said the premier, stressing that it was not the way to go.
“In the US, the richest country in the world, people are queued up to receive food. No one could have ever imagined.
“Poverty has shot up everywhere in the world due to lockdowns,” said the prime minister.
He said that in countries where poverty was already deep rooted, “the coronavirus lockdown has wreaked total havoc”.
“Today the whole world thinks a smart lockdown should have been enforced. In India where a total lockdown was enforced, poverty has gone through the roof.
“The poor have been crushed in India […] there are people, migrant workers, who are dying of hunger […] they’re dying walking on the roads due to a ban on transport,” PM Imran said.
He said that due to the steps Pakistan took, in contrast, a global entity such as the Asian Development Bank has “praised us for them” during a webinar.
They recognised that “no country doled out such large sums to so many people in such a short time,” he said, quoting the ADB.
He paid special tribute to Dr Sania Nishtar of the Ehsaas Programme which had seen to the distribution of funds to the poor.
The prime minister said the programme provided relief to 16 million people and assistance such as the payment of electricity bills was provided to 4 million small businesses.
“If we hadn’t done this, things would have been very bad in Pakistan.”