Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Monday that the nationwide lockdown will be lifted gradually, asserting that Pakistan cannot afford an indefinite closure, hours after 1,083 new infections were diagnosed, taking the country’s total confirmed COVID-19 cases past 20,000. Also Read - India Rejects Pakistan's Attempts to 'Bring Material Changes' in PoK in J&K
Khan addressed a ceremony to launch the Corona Relief Tiger Force, a controversial youth organisation he set up to help the government in identifying the poor to provide help to them. Also Read - Coronavirus: Pakistan PM Imran Khan Changes Media Team Amid Growing Criticism
“We are thinking of gradually easing the lockdown in the coming days,” he said, adding that Pakistan cannot afford an indefinite closure.
The current lockdown period will end on May 9. The Prime Minister is expected to chair a meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday to discuss the lockdown.
Khan said that the Corona Relief Tiger Force was not a political group but a volunteer force to help strike a balance between saving people from the virus and saving them from hunger and unemployment.
“Volunteers will have to register. All those who have lost their jobs due to the lockdown at their respective union councils. Not everyone can register themselves, so that is where the force will come in,” he said.
He added that the volunteers will also monitor the ‘Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme’ and give the centre feedback.
“If you see hoarding anywhere, don’t take action yourself but tell the administration. They will take action,” he said, adding that the volunteers will not get any salary for their involvement in distribution of cash to the people.
The opposition parties criticised the decision of mobilizing youth as a politically motivated move to launch the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf supporters into political activities.
Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that 17,000 of the people who had volunteered for the Corona Relief Tiger Force belonged to the medical community.
“No one really knows how long this disease will last and everyone needs to play their role,” he said at the ceremony addressed by Khan.
He added that the medical professionals will be given specific roles for the telehealth initiative so that they can help the government in fighting the pandemic.
Pakistan’s coronavirus cases reached 20,186 after 1,083 new patients were diagnosed in the last 24 hours.
The Ministry of National Health Services said that out of the total patients, Punjab reported 7,524 cases, Sindh 7,465, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 3,129, Balochistan 1,218, Islamabad 415, Gilgit-Baltistan 364 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 71 cases.
A total of 22 more patients also died in this period, taking the total toll of fatalities to 462. So far, 5,590 have recovered. The authorities have conducted 212,511 tests, including 9,522 in the last 24 hours, it said.
The menace of infection is spreading and gynecology department of Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar was temporarily closed after 35 medics affiliated with it were tested positive, officials said.
The efforts to bring back stranded Pakistanis were going on. A special plane brought 40 people from Sri Lanka, they said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Khan said that the nation was coming out of fear due to a well-devised strategy adopted by the government to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The state of fear is going to be over due to a good strategy adopted by the government,” the prime minister said during a meeting with his Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan at his Banigala residence on Sunday.
According to a statement issued by the adviser, some important issues – including the COVID-19 crisis, the relief package for the poor and sessions of the Parliament requisitioned by the Opposition for May 6 – were discussed.
Prime Minister Khan also called his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau to discuss the situation arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic and other matters of mutual interest.
He said Pakistan along with other developing countries was confronted with the twin challenge of saving lives and containing the infection, while simultaneously shoring up the economy. He thanked Canada for its support to include Pakistan in the G20’s debt relief initiative.
Separately, the Dawn newspaper reported that a critical coronavirus patient in Hyderabad city of Sindh was administered an experimental therapy involving injecting convalescent plasma for passive immunisation to treat the disease.
The development was confirmed by the Liaquat University Hospital (LUH) isolation ward’s focal person Dr Aftab Hussain Phull.
The plasma donated by a recovered coronavirus patient to the Diagnostic and Research Laboratory at the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences was administered to a patient under treatment at the isolation ward.
“He was given the plasma after managing his condition as best as possible under the given circumstances,” Phull said.
On April 30, the Sindh government had allowed three hospitals in the province to carry out clinical trials for the “experimental use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma for passive immunisation”.
The hospitals included the Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital in Karachi, the National Institute of Blood Diseases (NIBD) in Karachi and LUH, a government facility in Hyderabad.
Prior to this, the government had approved clinical trials for plasma therapy in addition to approving locally made ventilators for treating critically ill patients and granting permission for manufacturing sanitisers and producing chloroquine, the report said.