The National Assembly on Friday cut its session short by a week and prorogued proceedings due to concerns raised by treasury and opposition members over coronavirus. When the session had begun on March 9, the House Business Advisory Committee had decided that the assembly was to remain in session till March 20.
The session was abruptly prorogued after Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said that many members from both sides of the aisle had asked for the session to be cut short.
However, the minister added that there was no need for panic and the prorogation “is a precautionary measure”.
He added that Prime Minister Imran Khan had also been consulted on the matter. Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri then read out the order for the prorogation of the session.
The assembly had been discussing the coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan today, with opposition members blaming federal and provincial governments for not taking enough steps to contain the virus.
Beginning his speech, PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that the issue of coronavirus is of national importance and not about political point scoring. “This is an issue which may envelop the whole country and yet no cohesive national policy has not been developed up till now,” he claimed.
“Sindh has done some work, Balochistan has taken some measures as well but nothing else is being done in the entire country.
“We are happy that the prime minister has taken notice and called a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) today, but the matter is such that it has shut the whole world down.
“The US has shut flights down; cargo has been stopped [from entering various countries], a global crisis is brewing and in comparison to that, we are not seeing the kind of urgency [from the government] as is required. The virus is going to envelop the economy and the whole country; we need to take practical steps to stop it’s spread.”
Abbasi said that while the whole country needs to focus on combating the virus, the government chose to arrest Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, the editor-in-chief of Jang Media Group.
“The ink on an Islamabad High Court judgement regarding whom the National Accountability Bureau can arrest and when had not even dried up when the government decided to disregard it and arrest Rehman.” Abbasi added that the government “should focus on coronavirus for the next few weeks instead of political victimisation”. PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf said that the country did not act in time. “The issue came into limelight [in Pakistan] when we began speaking about the students stuck in Wuhan.”
“Now the whole of Italy has been quarantined and tawaf has been stopped at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia. In such circumstances, we demand imposition of state of emergency in the country.
“We are politicians and cannot avoid meeting people. However, the house should suspend its normal business and take up the issue,” added Ashraf.
“The government should give the house the real data and statistics on the number of passengers screened at airports and how many of them actually tested positive.”
Ashraf went as far as to suggest that Pakistan should shut all airports “for at least for two weeks”.
Agha Hassan Baloch from BNP-M said that the Balochistan government is responsible for the spread of coronavirus all over the country.
He criticised the Balochistan government for “not taking adequate steps” to check people coming from Iran. “What if the virus travels with us when we come here to attend the [National Assembly] session.
“The Balochistan government is committing a crime by not taking adequate measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Responding to the opposition’s criticism, Minister for Higher Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mehmood said: “When this issue came to surface, we were in a fix regarding the students stuck in Wuhan.”
“The Chinese advised us not to allow these students to leave Wuhan and assured us that they will be taken care of. Today the number of coronavirus cases is decreasing in China and the situation is improving there.
“The Sindh government has shut schools down and announced an emergency in the province – they should have waited for today’s NSC meeting.”