Dealing with COVID-19 the Pakistani style! – Yasmeen Aftab Ali

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As COVID-19 spreads, speculation is that the virus at the pyramid base is expending though going unreported to stem panic. As per information that nonetheless trickles through, some sources of the outbreak are being pin-pointed.

The Zaireen returning from Iran, were quarantined at D. G Khan. Also reportedly in Sukkur. Screening of the patients here took a late take off. Two weeks later than Sindh. The doctors treating patients are scared for their own safety as they do not in many cases, have the protective gear. News reports state that some have succumbed to the disease and passed away. Osama Riaz was the first medic to die of COVID-19 at 26 years of age in Gilgit.

The second source are people returning from UK that is suffering heavily due to COVID-19 where the daily death ratio reached a record high of 381 at the time of writing this article. Reportedly, many have houses in the upscale Phase 5 and Phase 4 DHA Lahore, (but not restricted to this city alone) and with their travel history have brought with them the virus.

The third source are the general public travelling (in particular returning from Saudi Arab after performing Umrah) who have carried the virus and subsequently contributed in expanding the pyramid base. As per a source (hailing from near Vehari) a couple returning from Umrah and disembarking at Multan Airport proceeded to pass it on to 17 people of his area. One can only imagine those they must have come in touch with en route to Pakistan and at Airport checkout. How many they must have infected besides the 17 in their hometown.

The fourth source are those who have still not taken this seriously. Who are still roaming freely not realizing the importance of physical distancing. And even then not realizing the importance of using the protective gear if have to per force step out of the house.

The fifth source is the Tableeghi Jamaat congregations. Some 550 members were quarantined in Sukkur and Hyderabad mosques once a COVID-19 case was reported in Hyderabad among a member. Among the 550 members, 26 hailed from other nations like China, Indonesia, Tunis, Afghanistan and Nigeria. On 31st March 2020, it was reported that 36 cases were reported of Jamaat members of Tableeghi Jamaat in Hyderabad. Then are mosques in every area of the country which have huge congregations especially on Friday noon prayer, yet instead of restricting the numbers to the staff of mosque only offering prayers temporarily, owing to fear of further broadening of the pyramid base, this has largely been ignored or restricted to ‘requests’ made to the clergy.

Coming to the nation’s reaction, this can be divided into two distinct categories. First are the common citizens of Pakistan. It is wonderful to see them coming forward to collect rations for the less fortunate. From organizations to individuals, efforts are being made to help the lower income groups in particular the daily wage earners. The economy was not rosy pre-virus days either, with non-people friendly economic policies of the government, but the lockdown, though needed and the physical distancing very important, has rendered this class without enough to buy food. The sad part is, they will still be asked to pay utility bills sans any income. The notably moneyed individuals are not in the news for having developed any scheme to help the less fortunate. However, one can ask legitimately as to why all the focus on philanthropy at the cost of taxes paid to be used for this emergency.

The second category is the government. First, PM Khan Khan constantly opposed the national lockdown. Expressing fear of economic fallout effect, Khan had a point. The government is in no position to feed 220 million people indefinitely. However, because of this very size, the importance of lockdown becomes self-explanatory. It should have been done earlier to avoid greater damage.

So far as any plan for helping the needy is concerned there seems to be prima facie no blue print to execute the implementation of the disbursement of cash/rations

One scheme started is of Ration Package for the deserving via Utility Stores. There are reportedly 6000 utility across the country for a population of 220 million people. It makes sense to conclude that most will not have an access to these stores within the vicinity of their homes either.

In his address to the nation on TV, PM Khan’s reliance on a “Tiger Force” to deliver confuses the brightest of minds. Without a clear cut policy, an objective guideline, co-ordination at national, provincial and local levels, this idea is a non-starter.

Problems are being created for the people by completely closing down internet recharge, bill payment centers, for mobile phones and private TV monthly payments. Not everyone has internet access and bank accounts supported by ATM cards to debit payments. A given number of designated franchises with directions of strict compliance to international standards must be issued and centers opened.

So far as any plan for helping the needy is concerned there seems to be prima facie no blue print to execute the implementation of the disbursement of cash/rations.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: yasmeenali62@gmail.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9