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Lockdown to be further eased, says PM

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced that the government would further ease lockdown by reopening more businesses and industries as the intensity of the coronavirus in Pakistan was much lower than that in Europe and the United States.

He said the country had become self-sufficient in medicalequipmentrequired for Covid-19 patients and doctors and paramedical staff as local industries started manufacturing ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) to combat the deadly virus.

The prime minister, who will announce on Saturday a new relief package for labourers and daily wage earners who have become jobless due to the lockdown, urged the nation to be responsible to meet the challenge of Covid-19 and maintain social distancingwhen more businesses would be reopened.

`Iran and Egypt have opened all businesses by maintaining ban on public gatherings and we will also further ease lockdown by sharing information with these states,` Prime Minister Khan said at a press briefing after chairing a meeting on the impact of Covid-19 in the country.

He said he had talked to Iranian and Egyptian leaderships and the former informed him that Iran, where the coronavirus condi-tion was worse than Pakistan, had reopened all businesses and industries.

Similarly, he added, Egypt had reopened all industries and resumed mega projects by maintaining ban on opening of educational institutions, wedding functions and public gatherings.

The prime minister said the governments of Iran and Egypt had same realisation that they could not let their people die from starvation during lockdowns and, therefore, they reopened all businesses. `Conditions in Egypt are similar to those in Pakistan as the number of patients and deaths due to coronavirus was almost same,` he said, justifying his consideration to further ease lockdown in the country.

The prime minister said no one could exactly claim how long the viral disease would continue to exist unless its vaccine was prepared. `It can go further for six months or a year or its spike can hit again,` he feared.

`Stay at home and observe social distancing when you go to mosques as this is a difficult time for our nation, he said.

Prime Minister Khan said he and his team were aware of the miseries of labourers and daily wage earners and had,therefore,launched the Ehsaas cash distribution programme, while a new programme for them would be announced on Saturday.

He said that under the programme, the government will contribute Rs4 against every Re1 to be donated by people in the relief fund.

Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said that although the number of patients and deaths was increasing by every passing day, the coronavirus situation in the country was not out of control.

`During more than two months` observation and monitoring of the situation, we have become able to make our own analysis and decide our future line of action,` he said, adding that the trend of viral disease in Pakistan was different from European countries and the US and, therefore, the country was doing its own modelling.

`We will decide our future line of action next week and hope that we will be heading towards further ease,` the minister said, adding that the government had extended lockdown till May 9 and would now decide how to proceed further.

Mr Umar said that due to the viral disease the country`s revenue target would fall by 30-35 per cent this year. `Pakistan is one of 15 countries which have been hit hard economically by Covid-19,` he added.

Dr Faisal Sultan, the prime minister`s focal person on coronavirus, urged people to adopt all good practices like social distancing they had learnt during the lockdown as the government`s next strategy would be based on public behavior.

Comparing Pakistan`s situation with that of Iran which has been badly affected by the virus, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that with only 346 deaths against 5,000 in the neighbouring country, Pakistan was `comparatively in a better position`. He said the country was now producing its own personal protective equipment.

Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar said the government would merge the relief fund with the Ehsaas programme to help labourers and daily wage earners badly affected by the lockdown.

SAPM on Poverty Alleviation Sania Nishtar said that all those registered with the Ehsaas cash disbursement programme would receive a message within the next 10 days.