ISLAMABAD: Iran has pushed around 5,000 Pakistani nationals through the border in Balochistan despite Islamabad’s request to wait until coronavirus quarantine facilities were ready for them, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said during a National Assembly session on Monday.
“I spoke with Iranian foreign minister and requested for a time to make arrangements (for the pilgrims), but they couldn’t do it due to economic sanctions,” Qureshi said while addressing the parliament sitting which was convened after a gap of two months.
He said Pakistan had no option but to receive its nationals.
Iran, a popular destination for Shia pilgrims, is one of the countries that have been worst affected by the pandemic and Pakistan has been blaming it for the virus spread as the neighbor is forcefully sending the pilgrims back without COVID-19 screening. In late March, the prime minister’s special assistant on public health, Dr. Zafar Mirza, said, “Eighty percent of the COVID-19-confirmed patients in Pakistan originated from Iran, which lacked the capacity to deal with an international public health emergency.”
However, during Monday’s parliamentary session, which was convened to discuss the coronavirus situation in the country, opposition parties argued that the blame for the virus outbreak should be put on the central government.
“You failed to test them, you could not quarantine them,” Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said, citing the government’s inability to ensure proper arrangements at the main Pakistan-Iran border crossing in Taftan, and accusing the prime minister of having no strategy to contain the pandemic.
Senior PML-N lawmaker Khawaja Muhammad Asif also criticized the government for a shortage of testing capacity and the prime minister’s “confused policy” on lockdown.
“We are tired of it. He isn’t providing leadership. He is providing confusion,” Asif said.
While Prime Minister Imran Khan did not attend the National Assembly session, Qureshi defended the government’s decision to ease coronavirus lockdowns across the country, as their continuation would push around 71 million people below the poverty line.
Pakistan started lifting its lockdown measures on Saturday.
With regard to testing, Qureshi said that the country’s capacity has increased to 20,000 tests a day. “I admit that this capacity is still low, but we will improve it gradually,” he said, adding that Pakistan has yet to reach the infection peak, but its mortality of 2 percent was lower than the global average of 6.8 percent.
There were nearly 31,000 coronavirus cases in Pakistan as of Monday and 667 related deaths.
The country of 210 million has so far conducted about 295,000 tests — about 11,400 in the past 24 hours.