ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar Saturday dropped a bombshell announcing that between 20 million to 70 million people could fall below the poverty line, while 18 million people could also lose jobs due to the lockdown.
In a news conference at the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) here, Asad said as per a research carried out by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), between 20 million to 70 million could fall below the poverty line, while 18 million people could also lose jobs owing to the virus.
He also pointed out that a recent survey by Gallup showed that one in four Pakistanis saw reduction in their diets because of the virus factor.
Emphasizing devastation unleashed by the virus, he said despite the fact that the virus was not as fatal in Pakistan compared to other countries, its economic impact was worse.
The minister noted, “We have seen revenue decrease by Rs119 billion in just one month and a research conducted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute has shown that around one million small entities may close down permanently, while another research by a leading university showed that the cost incurred by the economic and social distancing might be large in terms of immediate deprivation and hunger”.
Referring to yet another survey, he said more than any other country, people in Pakistan had lost their livelihoods.
The government cannot completely ease the lockdown but everything can’t be opened either to bar the healthcare system from being overburdened, he added.
To substantiate this, he explained that there were two key factors to be taken into account: there are nearly 5,000 beds in intensive care units and of them 1,500 had been dedicated to the coronavirus patients.
Likewise, there were 5,000 ventilators available in the country and the NDMA was in the process of importing more.
The decision on easing of restrictions, he said, would be taken in next two to three days after having been taken up with the prime minister and then putting it before the National Coordination Committee with regard to the lockdown beyond May 9 while the healthcare capacity had been increased in few months and the government would continue working on that.
Asad said coronavirus had not been as fatal in Pakistan as it had been in other countries, especially in the West, emphasizing that the lockdown was hurting Pakistan more than the virus.
The minister compared Pakistan’s death rates to the fatality rates of other countries and pointed out that the coronavirus had caused 58 per cent more deaths in the United States, 207pc more in Spain and 124pc more in the United Kingdom compared to Pakistan in the same period.
The minister said the testing, tracking and quarantine system had been made functional and its manifestation was witnessed recently in two sectors of the Islamabad Capital Territory.
Expressing satisfaction, he said the virus had not proved to be as contagious for Pakistan as it was in Europe and the United States.
The fatality rate in Pakistan, he explained, was far less compared to the United States, the UK and Spain.
However, he emphasized strict compliance of the precautionary measures in order to contract the disease.
He held our assurance that the decisions would be taken in such a manner as to not paralyze the country’s healthcare system.
“Restrictions will be eased gradually in order to provide livelihoods to the people,” he noted.
About the foreign media’s focus on the concept of flattening the curve, he maintained that countries worldwide were not focusing on elimination of the virus but controlling it, realising that the actions needed to eliminate the virus would be too strict for the people to bear.
As regards the coronavirus-related deaths in the country, the minister contended that 24 deaths were being reported daily on average for the past few weeks and if this (trend) was extended to a month, it amounted to nearly 720 deaths per month.
“Comparatively, some 4,000 people die in traffic accidents across the country every month. But we still allow traffic because it is necessary. And, if we focus on bringing the corona-caused deaths ratio to zero, then we would have to realise that we can’t bear the measures it would take i.e. diet of one in four Pakistanis will stand reduced,” he argued.
The minister acknowledged the fact that the government had received a splendid response from public and private manufacturers, as the country was producing personal protective equipment locally. Similarly, some great and workable designs for ventilators production had also been received.
However, he said the government needed to increase the testing capacity, while 55 laboratories were available that could conduct virus tests.
“If they work in a single shift, we can conduct some 14,700 tests every day, which is close to our target of 20,000. If we do double shifts, we can also double the number of tests that can be conducted daily,” he maintained.
The minister said around 900 ventilators more would be added in two months while at present there were 35 coronavirus patients on ventilators.
On the easing of lockdown to keep wheel of economy moving, the minister pointed out that even countries in Europe where hundreds of deaths occurred daily such as Spain, Italy and France had started easing lockdowns to keep the wheel of the economy moving.