Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said the government had decided to allow free movement of goods’ transport across the country, to ensure the supply and availability of essential commodities, especially food items to the people.
Talking to media-persons here, he said the decision had been taken unanimously by federal and provincial governments in the wake of situation arising out of the coronavirus pandemic and the problems faced by people due to lockdown and ensure uninterrupted supply of essential goods.
The prime minister, who earlier presided over a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) over COVID-19, said the government had also decided the opening of food-related industries for a smooth supply chain.
“This is a difficult balance. At one hand, we have coronavirus which can spread, and on the other, we have to ensure that our people do not die of hunger,” he remarked, adding the movement of goods’ transport and the running of food industry would help check the problem.
Minister for Planning Asad Umar, Minister for National Food Security Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal were also present on the occasion.
The prime minister also announced the launching of a special youth force namely the “Corona Relief Tigers” to tackle the situation arising out of COVID-19 and said the registration for joining the force would start from March 31.
The special youth force would be utilized to reach the poor people, especially those living in slums and `Kachi Abadis’, and deliver food and other essential items at their doorsteps in case of hard conditions, he added.
The prime minister also announced the setting up of “PM Fund” to cater to the needs of poor and needy. Under the Fund, the poor people and families would be provided direct cash through the Ehsas Programme, after gathering data of the unemployed and daily wagers hit by the coronavirus.
Besides, he said, a special account would be opened in the State Bank of Pakistan for collection of money from the overseas Pakistanis to help boost the country’s foreign exchange reserves, likely to be affected by the low exports and lesser trade activities due to the coronavirus.
The prime minister referred to the huge casualties faced by the world, including the developed nations after the outbreak of coronavirus and said Pakistan, due to the less spread of disease so far, had special blessings of Almighty Allah.
He said as 70% of the coronavirus cases came from Iran, the number of deaths from the contagion in Pakistan stood at 9, however, the government was preparing for the upcoming days and weeks which could not be predicted.
Imran Khan said Pakistan being the second youngest nation in the world could benefit from its youth and that was why the Corona Relief Tigers force was being launched to cope with the situation.
He said the biggest threat the country faced was not the coronavirus but panic as panic-buying and hoarding by the people could create shortage and price-hike of food and other essential items.
The prime minister advised the people not to panic, assuring that there was no shortage of food or other essential items in the country.
To a question, Prime Minister Imran Khan said as the media had an important role in democratic system across the globe his government believed in the freedom of media and would continue to take stand for a free media.
He, however, added that there should always be a difference between a constructive criticism and a criticism with mala fide intent.
The prime minister said as the coronavirus was a big challenge for the whole world, creating divide in a society would not serve anyone’s cause.
To another question about Pakistani students and expatriates, who wanted to come back to their homeland, he said since 75% of the coronavirus cases had come to the country from abroad, the government was taking extra care and was engaged in setting up of required screening facilities at airports before allowing them to travel back.
The prime minister said that the government would start bringing Pakistani students and expatriates back from abroad from April 4.
To a question, he said the government’s first priority was the provision of personal protection equipment to doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health workers, who were working as a front-line force against the COVID-19.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, in response to a question, regretted that a small privileged class that had been ruling the country, did not focus on quality healthcare in Pakistan and were used to visit abroad for their as well as their families’ medical checkups and treatment.
He said as there had been different health and education facilities for the poor and the rich in the country, his government was trying to bring in a uniform system for all, It was for the first time that a uniform curriculum was being implemented and legal aid system for the poor was being introduced.
The prime minister said under the health card scheme introduced by the present government, millions of poor families in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces had the facility of health insurance of Rs 720,000 each.
He said the measures being taken by present government in the wake of coronavirus would help upgrade the public sector hospitals in Pakistan.
Minister for National Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar said over-buying of wheat flour due to panic and the suspension of goods transport affected the supply of vital commodity, but on the prime minister’s direction a mechanism had been developed with the provinces and now there would be no restriction on the inter-district and inter-provincial movement of wheat.
He further said an agreement had also been reached with the flour mills associations of Punjab and Sindh, under which the quota for wheat flour had been enhanced from 60 percent to 80 percent.
The minister said with the public sector already having 1.6 million tonnes of wheat, today’s decisions would help check the gap in the supply of wheat flour.
Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said the front-line health workers, including doctors and paramedics in the hospitals across the country would be provided the personal protection equipment by April 5.
He said though the spread of COVID-19 in Pakistan was low, but as 61% out of a total of over 1,200 coronavirus cases recorded in the country were aged from 21 to 50 years, it was a different pattern when compared with the world.
Minister for Planning Asad Umar said the lockdown strategy could only succeed if the people continued to have access to essential commodities.
Keeping in view the situation it had been decided to monitor the stocks and movement of essential commodities so that the uninterrupted supply of essential items across the country could be ensured, he added.