Punjab government screens prisoners for coronavirus

Army, rangers, police and medical personnel patrol on a road during a government-imposed lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Rawalpindi on March 24, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 March 2020

Punjab government screens prisoners for coronavirus

  • The decision was taken after an under-trial inmate of Camp Jail tested positive for COVID-19
  • The inmate was recently arrested from the Lahore airport on charges of drug trafficking after he returned from Italy

LAHORE: The Punjab government on Wednesday started screening prisoners across the province for coronavirus infection after an inmate of Lahore’s Camp Jail was diagnosed with the infectious respiratory illness on Tuesday.
“The government will set up a 100-bed facility for prisoners suffering from coronavirus at the Camp Jail. The process of screening all inmates has also started,” Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar said while talking to the media after chairing a cabinet sub-committee meeting on the virus on Wednesday.
“An under-trial prisoner, Abid Hussain, was complaining of health issues and was shifted to the hospital at the prison facility. Owing to his bad condition, he was later taken to the Services Hospital where the COVID-19 test was conducted and the result came positive,” Camp Jail Superintendent Asad Warraich told Arab News.
Hussain was recently arrested at the Lahore airport on charges of smuggling narcotics after he arrived from Italy. He was taken to the jail on March 18, 2020, where he complained of chest pain three days later and was brought to the Services Hospital.
After testing positive for coronavirus, he was shifted to the Mayo Hospital where a special ward has been set up for such patients
“He has been kept in the hospital’s quarantine facility, and his health condition is stable,” Dr. Tahir Khalil, Medical Superintendent, Mayo Hospital told Arab News.
The jail authorities have also sent the blood samples of four prisoners and one policeman for examination since these people were in contact with Hussain.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has decided to release the prisoners involved in minor offenses to reduce the number of jail inmates in the province.
“The department has moved a summary that, on approval, will help release 3,500 prisoners from various jails across the province of Punjab,” Chief Minister Buzdar said.
According to the Punjab Prison Department, there are 43 jails in the province in which 48,794 prisoners reside. Among the occupants of these detention facilities, 47,913 are male while 881 are female prisoners.
The number of coronavirus patients is gradually increasing in Punjab. According to the official tally on Wednesday, the number of diagnosed coronavirus patients stood at 310 in the province and 77 only in the city of Lahore.

Daily wagers say government’s virus relief package won’t cover minimum needs

Updated 30 March 2020

Daily wagers say government’s virus relief package won’t cover minimum needs

  • Assistance to reach 3 million workers — less than a half of the affected, according workers’ association
  • The support package is part of the government’s Rs1.2 trillion scheme to minimize the impacts of the pandemic

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Monday approved Rs17,500 ($106) monthly cash assistance for around 3 million daily wage workers who lost their jobs amid cutbacks and shutdowns over the coronavirus crisis. The amount may be insufficient for them to survive.

“Something is better than nothing in this critical time, but this amount (17,500 rupees) isn’t enough even for a small family of five members to get by, ” Zahoor Awan, secretary general of the Pakistan Workers’ Federation (PWF), told Arab News.

“A small family needs at least 50,000 rupees per month to fulfill all its expenses including house rent, food and utilities,” he said.

The Rs200 billion financial support package is part of the government’s Rs1.2 trillion fiscal stimulus scheme to minimize the adverse impacts of the disease outbreak on the country’s fragile economy.

“It was estimated that around 3 million workers will fall in this category and they will have to be paid a minimum wage of Rs17,500 ($106) per month,” the government’s Economic Coordination Committee said in a statement on Monday.
The government will disburse the money to workers through provincial labor departments.

“This is a substantial and major commitment from the government at this difficult time,” Khurram Husain, business analyst and editor at Dawn daily, told Arab News, adding that the labor departments will have to generate “authentic data” on the workers for the funds to be fairly distributed.

However, the very data on which ECC based its relief may be unreflective of the reality. 

While the ECC estimates that 3 million daily wage workers have been affected by the shutdown of commercial activity across the country, according to PWF’s Awan the number is at least 7 million.

He said the government’s package covers only the formal industrial sector. “What about those thousands working in small hotels, shops, self-employed, and others who aren’t registered with labor departments?” he said, adding that it is necessary for the government to broaden its definition of daily wage earners.

Ghulam Mustafa, a daily wager at a textile mill in Chakwal, said that prior to the business shutdown his monthly income was Rs26,000.

“It’s impossible to meet all the expenses with Rs17,500,” he told Arab News. “The government should waive off our utility bills along with this allowance.”