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Coronavirus in Pakistan: Confirmed cases cross 1,200 as govt announces lockdowns, relief package

All inessential movements and gatherings have been banned nationwide, as the country looks to curtain the spread of coronavirus
by TR Pakistan

The numbers: Pakistan’s total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections reached 1,238 as of Friday afternoon, with nine patients dying. 421 coronavirus patients are located in Sindh, 419 in Punjab, 147 in KP, 131 in Balochistan, 93 in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir, and 27 in Islamabad. 

Nationwide lockdowns: While most of the nation is currently in partial lockdown, Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated his rationale for avoiding a complete national lockdown on March 25. However, he encouraged authorities to keep reassessing the situation keeping in mind the repercussions that society will have to face. On the same day, the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICTA) administration enforced a lockdown that includes the closure of shopping centers, restaurants, private offices and suspension of public transport. Two areas of the city, Faizabad and Kot Hathial have been completely sealed after a majority of the cases in Islamabad emerged there.

Situation in provinces: On March 24, the government of Punjab and Balochistan announced strict measures to ensure social distancing, including the suspension of public transport. Shopping malls, restaurants, parks, and non-essential services are closed whereas grocery stores, pharmacies, meat shops, and fruit markets remain open. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced a similar three-day lockdown on March 22. On March 23, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah announced a complete lockdown in Sindh, the province with the most coronavirus infections. According to the guidelines of this lockdown, all non-essential commercial activity and any kind of movement are banned for 15 days. The only exception is people going to the hospital, in which only three passengers per vehicle, all carrying CNICs, are allowed.

Facilitation by the government: On March 24, Prime Minister Imran Khan explained in a press conference that Pakistan is in no position for a complete national lockdown because it would harm not only the economy but also wage labor and their food security. He said a lockdown would be the last resort against the spread of coronavirus. He announced measures to prevent unemployment, protect agriculture and industry, and financial allocations of various relief packages for different segments of society including the economic relief package. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr. Abdul Hafeez, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal also addressed the conference.

Economic relief: The prime minister chaired a meeting with senior officials on the negative effects of COVID-19 on Pakistan’s economy on March 23. A multi-billion rupee economic relief package for low-income households, who will suffer economically due to the COVID-19 outbreak, was approved during the meeting. According to this package, the amount of monthly allowance under Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) will be increased to Rs3,000, and the funds from the government’s Ehsaas programme would be distributed among the most affected segments of society. Along with funds for BISP, the number of beneficiaries will also increase.