Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said that over 150 million Pakistanis have been affected due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown as he urged the provinces to allow public transport to resume operations, reiterating that the country could not afford an indefinite shutdown.
Addressing media with his core team to highlight the steps taken to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in the country, Khan said Pakistan cannot impose lockdown like the US, Europe and China.
He said that already the lockdown has badly impacted the economic situation in the country, especially the vulnerable segments, including 25 million people who lived on daily or weekly wages.
"Around 150 million people have suffered economically due to the coronavirus and lockdown," he said. Pakistan's total population is around 220 million.
Khan also made plea for resumption of public transport as its suspension "is hitting hard the poor people".
He said virus will remain "with us" for some time until a vaccine was developed against it. "But we can tackle it by following the mandated guidelines," he said.
He said the country is faring better than the earlier predicted coronavirus figures.
"The number of cases will continue to rise, but fortunately, our current numbers stand below the number of projected cases [by this time] which was 52,000," he said, as the number of coronavirus cases in Pakistan on Friday soared to 38,292 while the death toll rose to 821.
"The numbers are expected to rise and we are prepared for that. The government is working towards enhancing its health facilities and increasing capacity," he said.
"We are still far better than other countries and are taking measures to tackle any difficult scenario," he said.
A total of 10,155 patients have so far recovered from the virus.
Khan also said that due to the focus on the coronavirus, other diseases were being neglected and immunization of children decreased by 50 per cent and two anti-polio campaigns were missed.
"Those can't be ignored while we address the coronavirus pandemic," he said.
warned that the lockdown could be reimposed in areas where the number of infections rose rapidly.
Reiterating that the government was dealing with the crisis on the basis of consensus, the prime minister appealed to the provinces to reopen public transport.
He insisted that it was the common man that was suffering due to public transport being suspended.
He reiterated that the lockdown has been eased to facilitate low-income groups and allow for economic activities.
The Pakistan government last week said that it would begin a phased lifting of the lockdown due to its effect on the economy and the workforce.
Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that domestic flights would resume from May 16. He said initially 20 per cent air operation will be started and "only 50 per cent seats will be offered to follow the social distancing policy".
Earlier, The Express Tribune reported that Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) announced to resume domestic flights operations from Saturday (tomorrow). Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Serene Air will operate in the morning and afternoon.
It said that 68 flights will operate from Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, 32 from Allama Iqbal International Airport, Lahore, 32 from Islamabad International Airport, Islamabad, eight from Quetta International Airport, Quetta and four from Bacha Khan International Airport, Peshawar.
Special Assistance on Health Zafar Mirza said that production of remdesivir drug would start in Pakistan in a few weeks which would help to treat the disease.
He said that medicine would also be exported to 127 countries.
Mirza said that the Ministry of Health was making the wearing of mask mandatory for everyone going to the markets and other public places.
Planning Minister Asad Umar said that over 100,000 health workers were being trained about how to properly use the protective kits.
He said the government purchases 1,000 ventilators and some of them were already in Pakistan. He asked the people to adopt safety measures against the virus.
Meanwhile, Punjab government announced to lift restrictions on big shopping malls and auto industry from Monday.
Provincial Minister for Industries Mian Aslam Iqbal said Malls would open for four days a week while auto industry would remain open for the entire week.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government announced that it would impose a three-day weekly lockdown throughout in the province for the next three days. It had eased the lockdown for the last four days.
Prime Minister Khan had earlier joined a call by the world leaders for a "peoples' vaccine" to combat the coronavirus. The Prime Minister's Office quoted Khan as saying: "We must work together to beat this virus."