Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced his government would end the coronavirus lockdown despite the rising number of infections and deaths in the country citing economic losses and urged people to "live with the virus."
The Pakistan government has lifted almost all shutdown restrictions, primarily to avert an economic meltdown, and said the country would open to tourism but cinemas, theatres and schools will remain closed.
It has reported 72,460 cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and 1,543 deaths so far.
Imran Khan's announcement came shortly after an alarming government report was leaked to the media that showed Covid-19 cases in Lahore are estimated to be at about 670,800.
Khan said Pakistan's economic losses included a decline in exports, a 30% shortfall in revenues and remittances were expected to fall in coming months. Pakistan is facing a balance of payment crisis with the fiscal deficit likely to rise as high as 9.4% and the revenue shortfall.
In a televised address, Khan said the country couldn't afford to match the losses incurred during the lockdown as many other countries had done. He cited 50 million people who live below the poverty line and 25 million daily wagers.
Khan said his government gave cash handouts to the poor, which wasn't possible to continue on such a large scale, adding around 130 million to 150 million people were adversely affected by the coronavirus shutdowns.
"Our conditions don't allow that we keep feeding money to them, how long we can give them money," Khan said.
Khan was reluctant to call for a sweeping lockdown, so instead, the country's four provinces ordered their own closures.
"Unfortunately, the way lockdown occurred, that was very painful for our lower class," Khan said, adding that the lockdown had affected the country's tax-revenue collections.
He defended his decision to reopen, arguing lockdowns don't stop the virus.
"You will have to understand this coronavirus, it's not going to go unless a vaccine is discovered. We have to live with the coronavirus. The entire world has reached this conclusion," Khan said, pointing to eased restrictions in US states.
"Today, America, the richest country in the world, where 100,000 people have died because of corona, they too have decided that their economy would collapse if they (continue) a lockdown," Khan said.
He urged people to act responsibly but added that more infections and deaths were inevitable.
"This virus will spread more. I have to say it with regret that there will be more deaths," Khan said.
"I request you all to please follow SOPs (standard operating procedures), as we are opening everything on the conditions of these SOPs," Khan said in his address, warning people will suffer if they do not take precautions.
According to its health ministry, 28,245 Covid-19 cases have been diagnosed in Sindh, 26,240 in Punjab, 10,027 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 4,393 in Balochistan, 2,589 in Islamabad, 711 in Gilgit-Baltistan and 255 in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The ministry showed that 26,083 patients have recovered so far from the virus and authorities have conducted 561,136 tests.
(With agency inputs)
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