Imran Khan, army and ISI chiefs during their visit to the GHQ in Rawalpindi. File
Tariq Butt, Correspondent
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has summoned troops to help police implement social-distancing rules as a part of new measures aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus. Imran said on Friday that daily confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 were steadily increasing in the country.
After a meeting of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) that reviewed the overall pandemic situation in Pakistan, he appealed to the nation to follow precautions, warning they would soon be facing a situation like India if they continued on the same trajectory.
However, Imran deferred imposing complete lockdown in major cities, which have been hit by the COVID-19 severely. "The situation is changing very fast and we might have to impose a lockdown in days to come, which would be devastating for the economy and the poor.”
The NCOC meeting was attended by chief ministers, ministers and chief secretaries, which reviewed the latest COVID-19 numbers and decided to impose further restrictions as the third wave of coronavirus wreaks havoc in Pakistan .
"The government has expanded the capacity of hospitals during the past year. Had we not increased the facilities we might be facing a very bad situation,” the prime minister said. "If we strictly follow the SOPs till Eid, we may not need to take steps India is taking.”
He asked Ulema to play their role in creating awareness like they did in previous Ramadan.
"Today, people are asking me to impose a lockdown but we are not taking such an extreme step for now and I am more concerned about the poor and daily wagers. If our circumstances become the same as India, then we will have to close down cities. We can't do that because, as experience has shown, the poor suffer the most when lockdowns are imposed. People are telling me to impose a lockdown today, but we are not going to do so because, and I keep repeating this, daily wagers and labourers suffer the most."
Imran said Pakistan was the only country which had kept mosques open last year during the Holy Month of Ramadan. "I was proud of the way our religious scholars and imams informed the people about precautionary measures," he said.
The warning from Imran came hours after Pakistan reported 144 deaths in the previous 24 hours. It has reported a total of 16,842 deaths among 784,108 cases since last year.
Earlier, a top health official said Pakistan's hospitals were being flooded by the steady increase in patients. Many Pakistanis routinely violate social distancing rules, and so far police have failed to achieve better adherence.
The sealing of high-risk area comes as Pakistan reported 6,472 news cases on Saturday, the country's highest single-day total. Pakistan has confirmed a total of 132,405 cases, including 2,551 deaths.
The prime minister said only precautionary measures can help to defeat the coronavirus. The entire world, he said, has now understood that lockdowns are not a solution for the Covid-19 pandemic.
India's health ministry reported 4,187 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll close to 240,000. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see 1 million COVID deaths by August.
Already battling a third wave of infections and increasingly nervous about the crisis across the border in India, the government has imposed the most severe restrictions since a one-month lockdown in April last year.
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