Pakistan’s COVID-19 testing capacity stands at 20,000 a day, FM Qureshi informs NA session

National Assembly. Photo: File 

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday informed a National Assembly session that the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity stands at 20,000.

A session of the National Assembly, summoned last week by President Dr Arif Alvi, is underway to debate Pakistan’s current coronavirus situation.

FM Qureshi informed the National Assembly that all political parties had earlier mutually decided to make decisions regarding the coronavirus lockdown in the National Coordination Committee’s (NCC) sessions.

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic was an “unprecedented challenge” that has become one of the biggest catalysts after the World War II, Qureshi said health experts around the world were trying their level best to come up with strategies to curb the virus till a vaccine could be made.

“Irrespective of Pakistan’s response towards the virus, no country around the world was seen fully prepared to battle out the virus,” the federal minister said. “The world is learning with time.”

Presenting the global figures from the US, UK, and European countries, including Italy, he said Pakistan — being a developing country — showed a constructive response, with growing testing capacity, which now stood at 20,000 tests a day.

“Since the virus emerged, Pakistan had eight operational labs but now we have about 70 functional labs for the coronavirus. With improved testing capacity, we will get a clearer picture of the pandemic in the country,” he added.

Qureshi mentioned that to date, Pakistan had the highest testing capacity among all of the South Asian countries.

NA session summoned

Earlier, a Twitter post from the National Assembly of Pakistan had stated: “The President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has summoned the session of the National Assembly on Monday, May 11th, 2020 at 3:00 p.m. in the Parliament House.”

The development took place hours after Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced that the government was moving towards easing the coronavirus lockdown across the country.

Speaking after a meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC), which is the apex coronavirus decision-making body comprising top civil and military leaders, including the provincial chief executives, PM Imran had said the country would be opened “in a phased manner”.

Virus ‘reached parliamentary galleries’

Separately Deputy Chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwalla on Sunday suggested that the sessions of both the Houses of Parliament should be postponed after two parliamentarians were found infected with coronavirus, reported The News.

The Senate will meet on Tuesday.

“The virus has reached the parliamentary galleries,” said Mandviwalla expressing concern over reports of parliamentarians and assembly staff contracting coronavirus.

“More lawmakers and staff are likely to be affected by the virus,” he said and warned that summoning the National Assembly and the Senate sessions at this time could have serious consequences, says media reports.

He said the proceedings [of both the houses of Parliament] should be delayed, and steps should be taken so that no one enters the premises untested. Syed Mehboob Shah and PTI MNA from Bajaur Gul Zafar Khan tested positive.

Chaudhry proposes virtual session

Earlier, Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry had proposed holding a virtual session of the parliament and slammed the opposition for refusing to support the initiative.

“The Parliament session is necessary but people’s health is also necessary,” Chaudhry had said.

“The speaker [of the National Assembly] has contracted the coronavirus,” he added, referring to PTI leader Asad Qaiser, who had tested positive for COVID-19 alongside his son and daughter on April 30.

The federal minister had said he earlier proposed a virtual meeting. “We don’t go to the Parliament to hug each other; one has to talk, make speeches,” he noted.

‘Creating a vacuum’

Chaudhry had cited the example of a conference organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) he had attended alongside his counterparts from 93 countries.

“We’re creating a vacuum by not involving parliamentarians in decisions of the Parliament,” he had said, stressing that that was not in Pakistan’s best interests.

The Parliament, he added, had a role in the political sphere, which was why it was necessary to call a virtual meeting. Qaiser, the speaker, had earlier announced setting up of special software for the Parliament.

The Opposition parties opposed a virtual meeting of the Parliament and, in turn, resisted the use of technology, he had observed.

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