The number of coronavirus patients in Pakistan has now reached 646, the country’s health ministry said yesterday, although the government again refused to impose a nationwide lockdown to contain the virus’ spread.
Pakistan registered 112 new cases during the past 24 hours, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said.
Sindh province has the highest number of virus infections in the country, with 292 confirmed cases.
The provincial government announced that it would impose a lockdown starting at midnight (2000 GMT yesterday), which would last for the next 15 days, in an attempt to control the spread of the coronavirus.
The question of a nationwide lockdown has been discussed repeatedly in recent days and the hashtag #LockDownPakistan had been one of the top trends in Pakistan’s social media.
Governments around the world are mulling ways to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the deadly Covid-19 disease, that originated in China late last year and has so far killed more than 11,000 people globally.
Prime Minister Imran Khan again said that he would not impose such a step, during his brief televised address to the country yesterday.
He said that more than 25% of the populace lives below the poverty line and would be unable to survive a lockdown.
“We do not have the resources to take care of people during the lockdown,” Khan said as he advised people to practice social distancing.
The prime minister appealed the nation to observe self-discipline and quarantine in order to fight the pandemic.
He explained that going for complete lockdown will make lives of poor people miserable.
“I would have gone for complete lockdown of the country, had there was a similar situation in Pakistan like it had emerged in China and Italy,” Khan said. “We can come out of this challenging time by observing precautionary measures.”
The prime minister urged the nation to keep calm and not panic as the country battles the outbreak.
“What will happen to the 25% poor people if I go ahead with the lockdown?” he said. “Let me tell you what a lockdown is. A lockdown means putting a curfew and restricting people to their homes, with the military on the streets,” Khan said.
Separately, the prime minister chaired a meeting where he reviewed the measures taken to combat the spread of the virus in the country.
He was also briefed at the meeting yesterday about the steps taken by the provinces.
At yesterday’s address to the nation, the prime minister said that the government had shut down cinemas and barred people from gathering at public places.
However, Khan stressed that the federal government is not in favour of a lockdown as its effects will prove difficult for the poor.
He pointed out that Italy and other countries that had imposed a lockdown could do so as their per capita income was higher than Pakistan’s.
Khan said that it is important to keep the economy afloat and at the same time, keep people safe from the pandemic.
The prime minister had also said that the government is working on an economic package which would be announced tomorrow.
“We cannot compete with other countries of the world who are announcing economic packages,” he said. “However, we will protect our lower and labour class against the effects of the coronavirus. This package will do so.”