Prime Minister Imran Khan has rejected the option of imposing another lockdown in the country.
Speaking at a media briefing, he said that the country could not afford to go back to lockdown, and instead urged people to follow the government’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) for curbing the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The premier said that the government is preparing the budget for financial year 2020-21 in a way to generate more revenue and cut expenses, as a shortfall of Rs800bn in total tax collection had already been witnessed due to the coronavirus crisis.
Justifying his decision not to impose another lockdown, Khan said that countries still witnessing an increase in the number of coronavirus cases have been compelled to lift lockdowns.
“What these countries had gained from strict lockdown? Their people lost jobs, poverty increased while cases of coronavirus continued to increase there,” he said.
The prime minister said that lockdowns had created havoc worldwide as the nations which were giving loans had themselves come under debt.
“We were already facing financial crunch due to the huge burden of debt taken by the previous regime, and since we came to power we have retired Rs5tn as interest on foreign loans,” he said, adding that his government had paid half of the tax collected last year in debt retirement and half of the money was left to run the country.
Talking about the forthcoming federal budget, which is likely to be announced on June 12, the prime minister said that the government had to cut expanses and increase income to combat the coronavirus situation.
However, he said, the government would impose “smart” lockdown where required, and for which the Corona Relief Tiger Force would be used to provide assistance to the people.
“It is important for you [Tiger Force volunteers] to ensure that people follow SOPs because we can’t go back to another lockdown … the country can’t afford it,” Khan said, adding that if the spread of the coronavirus is slowed down by following SOPs, it would reduce pressure on hospitals.
He said that the country was already emerging from a difficult situation before the pandemic hit, adding that Rs50bn was given to the utility stores in the form of a subsidy, and Rs144bn distributed among the poor under the Ehsaas programme.
“How much more money can Ehsaas give? That is why it’s important for the people to ensure the implementation of SOPs.”
The prime minister said that the government had reopened industries to provide jobs and work opportunities to daily wage earners.
“The purpose of reopening industries is to help the vulnerable. A lockdown for [the privileged] is not a problem, but it is a problem for the working class,” Khan added.
He said that the main objective of the Tiger Force is to create awareness among the masses.
“In Pakistan we have 1,700 deaths, we knew the coronavirus would spread. We have to understand that this is a virus that spreads when people gather, so that is why we need to maintain social distancing.
“I will give you instructions every day. We will regularly give instructions on what you need to do, what the hotspots are, [and] we will guide you,” he said.
“The virus will spread, you can’t stop that. You can lock people up in their rooms and that will slow the spread, but this will not end it,” the prime minister stressed.
He said that none of the country’s coronavirus cases have been traced back to mosques, despite the government’s critics stating otherwise.
“The government’s critics said that the virus will spread from mosques, but no cases emerge from there, and today the world is opening mosques with standard operating procedures in place,” he added.
Khan said that the transport service was shut down due to the lockdown and food prices skyrocketed as a result.
However, he said the government kept up supply to utility stores and got some very good feedback from the Tiger Force volunteers.
He urged the volunteers to identify hoarders and inform the district administration to protect people and help the poor.
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