ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s prime minister said he fears the new coronavirus will devastate the economies of developing nations, and warned richer economies to prepare to write off the debts of the world’s poorer countries.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Imran Khan criticized recent comments by the president of neighboring Afghanistan, which appeared to reference accusations that Pakistan used militants to further its own goals in years past.
Khan also raised concern over India’s worst Hindu-Muslim violence in decades, saying the Indian prime minister’s Hindu nationalist-led government threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of millions of people through a controversial new citizenship law.
He further called for lifting sanctions against Iran.
Khan sat down with the AP at his office in the resplendent white-domed government headquarters in the capital of Islamabad. He’d spent much of his day meeting experts about the effect of the coronavirus outbreak in Pakistan, which has confirmed 183 cases so far.
"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. Pakistan secured a $6 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund last year.
The global virus pandemic presents the biggest test yet for Khan’s populist leadership since he took office in 2018. He’s mobilized Pakistan’s young people, who are among his largest followers. His critics say he came to power with the help of the country’s powerful military, and human rights groups say he’s cracked down on critical media outlets.
"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.