Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday disclosed that his government was using a system, originally meant to track down terrorists by the spy agency ISI, to trace the suspected coronavirus cases in the country, as the number of the COVID-19 patients rose to 10,982.
"It (tracking system) was originally (meant to trace) terrorists but we're using it to tackle corona," Khan said during the live Ehsaas Telethon to raise funds to support the people worst hit by the pandemic. He said that "tracking and testing is the only way to reopen businesses".
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is Pakistan's powerful spy agency. In 1950, it was officially given the task of safeguarding Pakistani interests and national security, inside and outside the country. Khan also visited the headquarters of the spy agency, where he said, "no efforts would be spared for security, integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan."
"A comprehensive briefing covering entire spectrum of internal and external challenges was given to the Prime Minister including impact of COVID-19," according to a statement issued by the PM Office. During Khan's Ehsaas telethon, the Prime Minister said that efficient tracking and testing of coronavirus infected persons was the only way to reopen the closed businesses in the country.
Responding to various questions, Khan said that a lockdown for indefinite period was not an option and any decision about the shutdown should be for "all Pakistanis and not just the elite". "The government is looking at the option of smart lockdown to wisely provide relief to the people badly hit by the closure of the country," he said.
He said that "even countries like the US are thinking to relax the restrictions on the people" and added that every country was making adjustments according to the local situation. Khan also warned the people to take the threat of virus seriously and do not believe in false notions that some of them have strong immunity.
He said that his government was giving cash support without thinking of political affiliations of the people and without any kind of political interference. He said majority of people benefiting from the cash distribution were in Sindh province where "we don't have government". Khan said police and federal investigation agency (FIA) officials were being used to ensure transparency in the Ehsaas cash disbursement program. "This will be the most transparent program in the country's history," he said, adding that Rs 12,000 were being to 12 million families.
On the issue of allowing prayers in mosques during Ramzan, Khan said that the government found a middle path by tasking the clerics to ensure compliance with a 20-point agreement which made social distancing mandatory while offering prayers. People from Pakistan and abroad were making direct phone calls to chat with him and also donate money. Former cricketers Javed Miandad, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram and singer-actor Ali Zafar also called Khan during the program.
Meanwhile, the worst-hit Punjab province reported 4,706 cases, Sindh 3,671, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 1,453, Balochistan 607, Gilgit-Baltistan 290, Islamabad 204 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 51 patients. According to reports, six more patients died in the last 24 hours taking the toll to 230. So far 2,337 people have recovered.
As the number continue to go up, the Punjab chapter of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) urged the government to reconsider decision to allow congregational prayers mosques during Ramzan. "The government is the captain of this ship, it should review this decision. Allowing people to pray within a distance of 6 feet is not practical," PMA Punjab chapter President Ashraf Nizami said.
The Pakistan government last week succumbed to pressure from the hardline clerics and allowed conditional congregational prayers in mosques during Ramzan, endangering the drive to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Pakistan's top doctors have already warned of "significant mayhem" and "fatal outcomes" if mosques continue to remain open and urged the government to review its decision to allow congregational prayers during Ramzan amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Several countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt have stopped congregational prayers in mosques. In several Arab countries, the 'azaan' (call for prayer) has been amended and now it urges people to pray in their homes.
Amidst efforts to bring back stranded Pakistanis, more than 46,500 had registered on an official portal for repatriation, according to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
He said that efforts were being made to bring back Pakistanis stranded in the Gulf at the earliest. He said screening was being done at the airports and quarantine facilities expanded there. He said the opening of remaining airports enhanced capacity to bring back 6,000-7,000 from abroad every week.
Separately, President Arif Alvi said that online education was the best and easiest way to provide education to the students. After visiting the TeleSchool Project in Islamabad, Alvi it would enable the students get education from homes in the current lockdown situation. TeleSchool is a TV channel recently launched by the government to provide 10-hours daily transmission to provide education from class 1-12.