Pakistan News

Opposition blasts govt over ‘slow response’ to virus threat

Opposition blasts govt over ‘slow response’ to virus threat

ISLAMABAD: The country’s two major opposition parties — the Pakistan Mus­lim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — have criticised the federal government over its alleged slow response to the coronavirus threat and called for devising a “national strategy” to deal with the situation which is “worsening by the day”.

The leaders of the two parties believe that the alleged failure of the federal government to control the border along Iran is the main reason for the spread of the disease in the country.

Speaking at a news conference at the National Press Club here on Tuesday, PML-N leaders Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Marriyum Aurangzeb and Rana Sanaullah regretted that the rulers were still in a “state of a denial” and were not ready to take it as a challenge.

Mr Abbasi alleged that due to inadequate measures taken by the government at the Taftan border area, a large number of people had fled from the quarantine camps. He said there were reports that some 500 people escaped from Taftan and had arrived in Punjab and the authorities had no clue of their whereabouts. He said the government’s “failure in managing the border and launching an awareness campaign on time has now put the whole country under threat”.

Mr Abbasi also lashed out at the prime minister for not attending the video conference of the Saarc leaders and nominating a non-elected adviser on health. However, he said, the conference was attended by the heads and prime ministers of the states, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“What message do we want to give to the world?” he said, adding that the country had a prime minister who could not even spare an hour to discuss with the regional leaders the most serious issue being faced by the world.

The former prime minister regretted that the government did not even allow a debate on the issue in the National Assembly and when the opposition raised the issue last Friday, a government minister stated that the government was aware of the situation and there was no serious issue.

Mr Abbasi said the opposition had decided to requisition the sessions of the National Assembly and the Senate to discuss the problem. He asked the government to prepare a “national strategy” to deal with COVID-19 and implement it after its approval from the parliament.

Mr Abbasi said according to his information there were only 1,000 ventilators available in the country which were insufficient to deal with any serious situation.

‘Where is data’

Mr Iqbal said it was due to the inability of the rulers that the country had recently faced the issues of dengue, polio and locust attack.

PPP parliamentary leader in Senate Sherry Rehman in a statement said as the country went through an unprecedented crisis in the shape of a global pandemic, it had become clear that there was an unfortunate and worrying leadership deficit at the federal level.

Ms Rehman said timely response had only come from Sindh and it was alarming that other provinces were slow to test and take the crisis less seriously than they should.

“There’s a clear failure to recognise the magnitude of the crisis. As the number of cases in Pakistan tripled overnight, the cabinet apparently refused to disburse money to its own health ministry, and ignored calls from Sindh, which was the only province not in denial of the scale of the crisis,” she added.

She questioned the screening gap at international borders and said the quarantine facility at the Taftan border had badly exposed the quality of emergency responses, where exposed pilgrims from Iran were clustered together in squalid conditions which bred high transfers of the virus.

“Where is the data on the pilgrims from Taftan who returned back to KP, Balochistan or Punjab? Are screening facilities adequate in these provinces? Only Sindh has provided facts and figures on the coronavirus cases and is being open about their treatment,” she added.

“At a time when the country is in need of unity, constant coordination, clear public messaging and cautionary advice, the federal government is criminally negligent in stepping up to its responsibilities to the nation,” she said.

“As it stands, the public needs a robust informational messaging campaign on how to cope with work, social and commuting pressures. People need leadership, not an absent prime minister,” she added.

“Given the human, social and economic costs that will burden Pakistan, we need a government in Islamabad that will act, not dither or worry only about its political messaging,” she said.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2020

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