Pakistan Opposition accuses Imran Khan govt of mishandling coronavirus crisis as cases rise to 31,684

Image Source : PTI (FILE) Imran Khan Pakistan’s Opposition parties on Monday accused Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government of mishandling the coronavirus crisis, as the total number of the COVID-19 patients in the country rose to 31,684. During a National Assembly session convened after a gap of nearly two months, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and former defence minister Khawaja Asif led the criticism. Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri chaired the session in the absence of Speaker Asad Qaiser who is recovering from the coronavirus. The meeting is the first since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. Asif said that the federal government was confused over the issue of how to handle the coronavirus crisis. “The current situation that we are in is due to the approximately two months-long negligence showed by the government. When we had fewer deaths, the entire country was completely shut down. Now that we are seeing a dangerous spike in cases, they are easing lockdown restrictions,” he said. He also lashed out at the government’s inability to increase testing capacity. “Two weeks ago, we were told that our testing capacity will be increased to 50,000. But now we are being told that it is only 20,000,” he said. He said that the government was dividing the nation instead of uniting it on one platform as it had no strategy which also revealed the ineptitude of the Prime Minister. Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that the federal government was impeding efforts of the Sindh government to address the coronavirus crisis. He said that an ordinance prepared by the provincial government was not allowed by the governor. “We demand that the ordinance should be endorsed without any further delay,” he said, adding that his party, which rules over Sindh, wanted to support the prime minister to tackle the crisis. “The federal government should’ve stood with us shoulder to shoulder. We’re in the midst of a war, and the PM expects us to fight the war on our own?” he said in the National Assembly. He also said that the centre was not providing kits to medical professionals and questioned whether the federal government wanted the provinces to fight the virus “without the weapons”. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi defended the government’s handling of the pandemic, saying the situation of COVID-19 in Pakistan was different as compared to Europe and the United States. “Our death and infection rate is 2.17 per cent. Across the world this percentage is 6.8. So we have been largely spared from the larger consequences of this pandemic,” he said. He also claimed that Pakistan was ahead of other South Asian countries in handling the coronavirus crisis. Qureshi also accused India of using the coronavirus crisis to divide the people. He said that Iran sent 4,000-5,000 Pakistanis across the border despite requests to wait until a quarantine facility was developed. Minister of Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar said hunger was as much a threat to Pakistan as the coronavirus itself. “Ours is not a western developed country where people can sit home and eat. We have to balance hunger and poverty with the virus,” he said in the National Assembly. He said that if the government continued with the lockdown, 20 million people would go below the poverty line. Meanwhile, the coronavirus cases in the country jumped to 31,684. Out of the 31,684 cases, Punjab registered 11,568 patients, Sindh 12,017, Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa 4,875, Balochistan 2,017, Islamabad 679, Gilgit-Baltistan 442 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 86 patients.A total of 28 more people have died in the last 24 hours, taking the tally of COVID-19 deaths in Pakistan to 667. Another 8,212 recovered so far. On Monday, Prime Minister Khan chaired a meeting on the crisis where he was briefed about the latest efforts to control the spread of the disease in the wake of easing lockdown. According to an official statement, Khan said that “lockdown is being eased in a phased manner according to the situation and to keep a balance between business and health needs”. Meanwhile, an army officer died due to coronavirus. “Major Muhammad Asghar laid his life in the line of duty at Torkham border in fight against #COVID-19. Evacuated to CMH (combined military hospital) Peshawar with breathing problems, was put on ventilator but succumbed to Corona Virus. There is no cause bigger than serving the Nation,” an army spokesman tweeted. Also, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) extended a ban on the domestic flights until May 13 as part of the government’s instructions to minimize travelling of people. The earlier ban ended on May 10. Minister for Information Shibli Faraz launched a campaign “Masks for All” as part of the government’s measures to contain COVID-19. He said that five million free masks will be distributed across the country. Separately, Special Assistance on Security Dr Moeed Yusuf told the media that the government was working hard to bring back all stranded Pakistanis at the earliest. “We will try to do everything to bring our people back. We currently are trying to bring back 10,000 Pakistanis, most whom will be from Middle Eastern countries,” he said. 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