ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan on Monday said he feared that the new coronavirus would devastate the economies of developing nations, and warned richer economies to prepare to write off the debts of the world’s poorer countries.
He further called for lifting sanctions against Iran, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.
“My worry is poverty and hunger,” Khan said. “The world community has to think of some sort of a debt write-off for countries like us, which are very vulnerable, at least that will help us in coping with (the coronavirus).”
He said that if a serious outbreak happens in Pakistan, he’s worried that his government’s efforts to lift the ailing economy out of near-collapse would begin an unstoppable slide backward. Exports would fall off, unemployment would soar and an onerous national debt would become an impossible burden.
“It’s not just Pakistan. I would imagine the same in India, in the subcontinent, in African countries,” he said, referring to the virus. “If it spreads, we will all have problems with our health facilities. We just don’t have that capability. We just don’t have the resources.”
Most people who get the new coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness it causes experience only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover within weeks. But the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by people with no visible symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
In a further call for action from the international community, Khan said it was time to end US sanctions on Iran, where one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world has unfolded. Iran has struggled to respond in part because of crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
The outbreak in Iran has also hit close to home. Most of Pakistan’s cases of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness it causes have been traced back to Iran, and all of the 21 Afghans who tested positive had traveled to Iran.
Khan said Iran is a “classic example” of a place where the humanitarian imperative to contain the outbreak outweighs political rivalries or economic dogmas.