ISLAMABAD: PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Tuesday strongly criticised Pakistan’s response to coronavirus led by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the federal government, terming it “criminal negligence”.
“Who had said that the coronavirus is just a mild flu and not a deadly disease,” Bilawal said while addressing the Parliament during the third day of coronavirus budget session.
“Who opposed the lockdowns in the country and then imposed the lockdown and then eased them and to date is confused on what to do?
“How dare you blame the people of Pakistan for your criminal negligence in the country? How dare you?”
The PPP chairperson said every 15 minutes, someone died of the deadly COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus infection — in Pakistan and on top of that, the country “is threatened by locust attacks”.
“We have a forecast for tsunami and global recession. This cannot be a budget of a country suffering from the global pandemic,” he said, highlighting that the South Asian nation had 149,000 patients of the respiratory illness and that another 2,900 citizens had succumbed to it.
Noting that the close to 2,000 frontline healthcare workers had contracted the coronavirus and 40 had lost their lives, Bilawal slammed the government over its incompetency and inability to plan. The Pakistani people were expecting the budget to be in accordance with the country’s pandemic woes “but they opposed every decision taken to stem the spread of the disease,” he added.
“The federal government did not just oppose Sindh’s but every provincial government’s decision regarding curbing the coronavirus [spread]. Now when we know that the virus has gone rampant, did we drastically increase the health budget? No!
“Have increased the salaries of our front line workers? Have we given them the risk allowance? No! How much proportion have we separated for the awareness of the virus?”
The PPP chief blasted the PTI-led federal government for constituting the budget in a manner that implied the deadly virus was the talk of past and Pakistan had already combated it. “We’d been putting our concerns forward regarding the locust attacks.
“We’d been shouting in the Parliament about the threats of the virus since February but nobody listened to us. [BNP Chairperson] Akhtar Mengal and [former president] Asif Ali Zardari had been voicing concerns about the locust attacks previously.
“They had already warned that this is the biggest threat in 25 years. You kept on saying that the National Action Plan (NAP) is ready and we will fight through! What are you waiting for?”
“Are you waiting for droughts, famines and economic downfall in the country? Who should we blame for these ineffective decisions? We wanted to combat the virus with political unity,” Bilawal added, noting that the government of Sindh and PPP had appealed to the Centre to follow the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).
He further chastised Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration for prioritising resumption of business operations.
“We were listening to our health professionals and their guidelines but our prime minister was listening to the business community and catering to their needs and demands,” he noted, underlining how after easing the lockdown restrictions, the virus spread from urban centres to rural areas.
“We had the examples of China, Germany, and Italy, [all of] which were constantly telling us not to repeat their mistakes. Now you will contend that these are rich countries but we also have low-cost solutions.
“We have examples of Vietnam where not even one life was lost to the virus. They worked with compact and united strategies,” he explained.
Taking a jibe at the cricketer-turned-prime minister and his slogan, he sarcastically said: “Oh but ghabrana nahi hai [no need to worry] since we won the 1992 World Cup! Right?”
The PPP chairperson then lambasted the ruling PTI’s minister for giving examples of Sweden — a lax lockdown policy where eateries, gyms, and schools remained open and that the country’s former health chief later said “hasn’t been the smartest”.
“The most loss is borne by the country [Sweden] financially and socially and [it] has suffered the worst of both worlds. Till date, the international organisations have been giving guidelines to contain the virus,” he said.
“If we are expecting that the general masses will voluntarily wear masks and will adhere to the precautionary measures, then we are wrong. It is we who have to come up with a strategic plan,” Bilawal added.