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PM declares package over a trillion rupees amid virus lockdown

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday announced a multibillion package involving relief for labour and underprivileged class, business community and industries and farmers, besides lowering fuel prices in the country, amid shutdown in various parts of the country out of coronavirus outbreak.
While addressing a group of media persons along with Special Assistant to PM on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan, the Prime Minister said that they have earmarked Rs 200 billion for labour class and are also in touch with the provinces and business community to devise a strategy as to how they could facilitate the federal government in the process.
“We are giving a tax refund of Rs 100 billion to exporters while Rs 100 billion are also set aside for small and medium industries and agriculture sector.”
“We will also defer the payments of interests to be made from both these sectors [small industries and agriculture],” he said while announcing a relief after coronavirus wreaked havoc on business activities countrywide.
The Prime Minister announced Rs 150 billion package for poor segments of the society under which each household would be given Rs 3,000 for the next four months.
“We are also expanding the sphere of shelter homes and are also setting aside Rs 50 billion for Utility Store Corporation to provide them basic commodity items on lower prices,” Imran Khan said.
The Prime Minister also announced to lower the fuel prices in the country by Rs 15 per litre other than relief in payments of utility bills that could now be paid in three-month installments.
He said that they have also earmarked Rs 280 billion for purchase of wheat.
Imran Khan said that an amount of Rs 50 billion is also set aside for purchasing medical equipment needed to tackle the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.
“We have earmarked Rs 100 billion to counter the effects of lockdown while Rs 25 billion are set aside for NDMA for purchasing necessary equipment to deal with the virus-related issues,” he said.
Meanwhile, speaking over lockdown, the Prime Minister said that it is already in place as its implementation began soon after the National Security Council meeting, however, imposing a curfew is the last stage of the lockdown.
“The greatest fear we have is to take a wrong decision while fearing coronavirus,” he said adding the lockdown had began in the country after confirmation of 21 virus cases with all schools, marriage halls and public places being shut down.
“Our one wrong decision could wreak havoc in the society,” he said and asked the media persons if the country has the capability to provide food to all those living in the slum areas during the days-long curfew.
For the construction industry, the government would announce a separate package within days, which, he promised, had never been witnessed in the country’s history.
Reiterating that the country could not afford a complete lockdown with the imposition of curfew, the Prime Minister said the situation in the country so far does not warrant for resorting to that last step.
However, he added, the government would review the situation after a couple of weeks. The provincial governments after the 18th Constitutional Amendment could take their decisions while the role of the federal government is only that of an advisory, he replied to a query.
The federal government, he said, could only give guidelines but could not direct the provinces against their decisions. The provincial governments could react to a situation, but should also give consideration to the evolving situation.
“God forbids, nobody knows the evolving situation, which might also compel us for the imposition of curfew after two weeks,” he added.
Advisor to the PM on Finance Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Minister for Food Security Khusru Bakhtiar, Advisor to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, and NDMA Chairman Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal were also present on the occasion.
Comparing the situation in Spain, Italy, France and other European countries, the Prime Minister said with about 900 cases in Pakistan, the government team had been taking cognizance of the evolving situation regularly.
Enforcing a curfew would lead to complete halting of transport, which could badly affect the food and medical supplies.
Such steps could have strong damaging affects upon the society and economy, especially on the downtrodden or the poor class, who had been living in clusters in the Katchi Abadis.
The Prime Minister differentiating between the lockdown and curfew also shared his concerns that the evolving situation of the COVID 19 outbreak could stretch over to six months.
“Whatever decisions the government take, I am fully responsible for them. All the economic decisions are being taken with consensus of my economic team,” he added.
To another question, he regretted that the economic situation had been improving in the country as the macroeconomic indicators witnessed rising, but the COVID 19 outbreak cast unintended consequences upon the economy. The year 2019 had been the most difficult time of his life, he added.
The Prime Minister, to a question, replied that in case of emergency, the country would require a volunteer force comprising the youth, besides creation of funds. The youth and overseas Pakistanis would be tapped in such like scenario.
Dilating upon the issue of complete lockdown, he further regretted that a confusion and impression had been created in the country. Taking wrong decisions at the current critical stage were more dangerous than the spread of coronavirus, he warned.
The Prime Minister said the government is extra cautious in taking certain steps, which should benefit the country and the nation. During the first National Security Committee meeting, when the country had reported just 21 cases, the gradual lockdown started with the closure of the schools, besides stoppage of public gatherings.
In the past, decisions were taken for the interests of selected elite class and there were different systems for different classes, he said and regretted that the same response was being also witnessed in the country over the coronavirus.
The Prime Minister said it is a collective fight of the humanity and a single government cannot fight it alone.
The public response to the government’s measures like those witnessed in China is vital for achieving the objectives, he stressed and urged the nation to fully cooperate with the government’s calls to control the spread of pathogen.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday stated that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects are vital for the development of Pakistan and these projects will provide huge opportunities in terms of employment, communication and economic prosperity.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said this while chairing a briefing here on status review of CPEC energy projects.
The Prime Minister highlighted that Pakistan enjoys extreme goodwill with China that has been proven time and again during emergent situations.
Prime Minister Khan stated that fast-pace implementation is in the interest of the country. He emphasized that timely decisions are required so that cost-escalation on these projects are avoided.
The briefing was attended by Minister for Planning Asad Umar, Minister for Power Omar Ayub Khan, Special Assistant to PM for Petroleum Nadeem Babar, Chairman, CPEC Authority Lt. Gen. (Retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa, secretaries of Power, Petroleum & Planning divisions, chairperson FBR, chief secretary Azad Jammu & Kashmir and senior officials. Punjab chief secretary was also available through video link.
Chairman CPEC Authority Lt Gen (Retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa briefed the meeting in detail about progress on CPEC projects.
During the briefing chairman CPEC authority apprised that there are a total of 22 projects in the CPEC’s energy portfolio, among which nine have already been commissioned.
A detailed briefing was provided on energy sector projects including Kohala hydropower project, Azad Patan hydropower project, Gwadar power project, power projects in Thar and Karot hydropower project. – TLTP

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