Islamabad , March 18, 2020: Pakistan cannot afford to implement the type of large-scale urban lockdowns the West is undertaking as it tries to slow the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said.
The United States and many other nations have either mandated or recommended the closure of restaurants and other businesses as a way of stopping people from passing the virus on.
In Pakistan, home to megacities such as Karachi with millions of people living in close proximity, Khan on Tuesday said such a move was considered early on but officials feared it would devastate the country’s fragile economy.
“The Pakistan situation is not the same as that of the US or Europe… 25 percent of our population is living in grave poverty”, Khan said in a televised address to the nation.
“If we shutdown the cities — people are already facing difficult circumstances — we will save them from corona at one end, but they will die from hunger on other side.” Pakistan has however closed cricket stadiums, schools, colleges and universities, Khan noted.
The South Asian nation is considered vulnerable to the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Its porous borders, creaking hospitals, culture of hand shaking and hugging, and large illiterate populations in crowded urban centres mean containing the crisis could be a huge challenge.
Additionally, Pakistan has a large fiscal deficit and has needed multiple International Monetary Fund loans.
Khan said Pakistan’s economy had made gains last year but now faced pressures from the coronavirus crisis and suggested the IMF should consider relief on the country’s loan repayments.
“We will speak to the IMF because … we have to give relief to our industries and exporters,” he said.
The cricketer-turned-politician also warned “very strict action” would be taken against food hoarders.
As of Tuesday, Pakistani health authorities had only tested 1,571 suspected cases, with over 200 of them positive. There have been no official deaths so far, but observers fear the true number of cases is higher than is reflected by statistics.