Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced that the government has earmarked Rs200 billion for labourers who will face extraordinary difficulties in the wake of nationwide lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
"In many countries a curfew has already been placed. Had I been in Italy or France, I would have no qualms in placing a curfew. When I think of Pakistan, I think of how we will get food to the people."
Referring to the decision by the provincial governments to enforce lockdowns in their respective provinces, he said: "In Pakistan unfortunately decisions are always made keeping in mind the elite."
"When I place a curfew do I ever think of squatter settlements where there are 8-10 people living in a single room?
"And this is a curfew which is not a normal curfew where you can come out to buy groceries from the marketplace in the evening. Here, if you allow such a thing, it will defeat the purpose of the exercise."
He questioned whether Pakistan has the capability to enact such moves while also ensuring the supply of food to the underprivileged sections of society.
"Have we thought of what effect a curfew will have on transport? How will hospitals get their supplies?"
He said these were all considerations that need to be taken before such moves are made.
The premier said that even though lockdowns have already come into effect throughout the country, the government is in touch with all the chief secretaries who are in turn in contact with deputy commissioners to review the after-effects of such measures.
Citing one example, he said that it was found that the supply of pulses was affected due to the Karachi port being shut and it was estimated that supply would be drastically impacted in a week's time so the port was opened. The premier reminded everyone: "Seventy five per cent of our pulses are imported."
He said that a stimulus package was debated upon today to safeguard against damage to the economy.
Outlining the major points of the package, the prime minister said:
1. Labour - A sum of Rs200 billion has been earmarked for labourers. We will also discuss with the provinces and businesses to accommodate the labourers so they are not rendered jobless.
2. Export and industry - We will give them Rs100bn worth of tax refunds — which are usually delayed and given — so they may spend this on their labour as well. Interest payments have also been deferred.
3. Small and medium industries - Rs100bn have been set aside for these industries and their interest payments deferred as well. They will be able to make use of concessional loans as well, with low interest rates. Farmers will also be able to enjoy lower input costs.
4. Low-income families - A sum of Rs150bn has been set aside for families most impacted, spread across the next four months. They will be given Rs3,000 monthly. Provinces will be asked to join in and assist the federal government.
5. Expansion of Panah Gah - In the wake of the pandemic, there has been a rush on existing shelters so their numbers and capabilities need to be expanded. The government will work to enforce measures so that people are screened before being let in.
6. Utility stores - To ensure consist availability of goods, the government has set aside Rs50bn. The government will also budget for wheat procurement worth Rs280bn, so the farmers can also earn and the village areas do not face a financial crunch.
7. Petrol and diesel - Petrol, diesel, kerosene and light diesel will see their prices slashed by Rs15 "which will result in an impact on the government of Rs75bn".
8. Electricity and gas - Seventy five per cent of the population are said to use 300 units or less of electricity. These households will be able to pay their bills with a deferred payment plan, over the next three months. Similarly, 81% of gas consumers incur a bill of Rs2,000 per month. They will also be able to pay in instalments over the next three months.
9. Medical workers, equipment - A sum of Rs50bn has been set aside for the purchase of equipment and all necessary facilitation of medical workers who are at the forefront of the fight against the virus.
10. Food items - Taxes on these will either be abolished or reduced.
The prime minister also said that a special sum of Rs100bn has been kept for the express purpose of use in an emergency to counter the after effects of the lockdowns.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) will also be granted Rs25bn to procure kits, equipment, and other items from other countries.
"In addition, a separate package is being prepared for the construction industry, the likes of which Pakistan has never before seen," said the premier.
"Construction is a sector which provides employment as well as facilitates other industries and aids in wealth creation."