Govt to set up a fund for daily wagers; an account for overseas Pakistanis to reduce pressure on the rupee
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday announced the formation of “Corona Relief Tiger Force” as he set up a fund to support daily wagers and an account for overseas Pakistanis to help lift pressure off the rupee as the number of coronavirus cases continued to rise in the country.
The premier also announced that all the four provinces and the governments of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have decided to lift all restrictions imposed on the movement of goods transport across the country.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was talking to media persons about his government’s measures to control the spread of COVID-19 disease in the country after chairing a meeting of the newly formed National Coordination Committee (NCC) on coronavirus.
The contagious disease on Friday continued to gain grounds in the country as the national tally of cases rose to 1,320, with 440 cases in Sindh, 448 in Punjab, 132 in Balochistan, 180 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), 27 in Islamabad, and 93 in the AJK and the G-B.
With its 23 new cases, Punjab on Friday overtook Sindh. According to Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department’s spokesperson, 207 confirmed coronavirus patients emerged among the pilgrims at the quarantine centre in DG Khan, 46 in Multan and 105 in Lahore.
Although coronavirus has so far not spread as widely in Pakistan as in some western countries, the premier said, there is “no guarantee” COVID-19 cases will not sharply rise in the country in the coming weeks. “The government is now preparing for the worst-case scenario,” he said.
Following the NCC meeting, PM Khan launched the youth force, saying it will lead the fight against the coronavirus in Pakistan. While calling upon all volunteers to come forward, he said recruitment for the force will start from March 31.
During the briefing, he said no one could say what would be the situation in the coming weeks, adding “that’s why we have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario in case the number of cases spike.”
When a lockdown was imposed in Wuhan city of China, the premier said, the authorities delivered food to people’s homes. He said Pakistani students in China recall that the Chinese government would send supplies straight to their hostels.
“We don’t have the infrastructure to get food to people’s homes if we go for lockdown today. So I am announcing today, we are developing a special youth force,” Khan said, adding that preparations are in full swing and a membership drive with the citizen’s portal would begin soon.
Reminding that Pakistan has the world’s second-largest youth population, Khan said the Corona Relief Tigers would be sent all over Pakistan to deliver essential supplies.
Announcing to lift the ban on goods transport, he said the decision was taken because food items, like flour, had become expensive due to the restrictions on transporters’ movements.
“Coronavirus relief fund is needed to be established to support daily wagers and poor segments of society who have been the most affected by the coronavirus.”
Apart from the donations by the public, he said, the government would also provide cash to the poor under its Ehsaas program. “We will register all such people in our Ehsaas program. People all over Pakistan will contribute money which will be given to families in need,” he said.
The premier also said he would urge overseas Pakistani to deposit funds into the account that would be set up in the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to help lift the pressure off the rupee and to counter a drop in remittances and foreign exchange reserves.
“Right now, Pakistan needs immense support from the overseas Pakistanis. This will be the fund that will drive the country out of this difficult time,” he hoped.
Commenting on the steps to be taken to ensure that the food industry remains functional, he said all four provinces are working to devise a mechanism to ensure food industries and industries linked with food production remain functional.
Later, he asked Minister for National Food Security Khusro Bakhtiar to give an update on the current stocks.
Assuring the nation through media briefing, the minister said enough wheat stocks are available to last till the start of the next harvesting season. He said 1.6 million tonnes of wheat is available and whatever gap is seen due to lockdowns would improve in the next couple of days.
“Where there is a shortage, the province will fulfill the demand. We have mapped out the country’s transport needs for this,” Bakhtiar said.