Written by: Hamza Ajmal Niazi
While the world facing COVID-19, Pakistan is also affected by this virus. To
control this pandemic almost every country is under health emergency and
lockdown. On 26 February, Zafar Mirza the PM's Special Assistant on Health
officially confirmed, first two cases of the coronavirus. Both cases were taken
care of accordingly to clinical standard protocols & both of them are stable.
The extreme fear caused by the COVID-19 took time to register as the attitude
toward it was rather indifferent initially. Even now, many Pakistanis,
particularly those religiously inclined and the ones inhabiting rural areas
continue to live and behave the way they did certain comments and reactions add
to your knowledge, others make you laugh or make you angry. Dr. Osama Riaz, the
young doctor who became the first casualty among the medical workers treating
coronavirus patients in Pakistan, had caught the infection from the Zairean who
had returned to Gilgit-Baltistan.
The pilgrims who returned home after performing Umrah also contributed to
spreading COVID-19 in parts of Pakistan. The most prominent among them was
Saadat Khan, the 50-year-old dispenser from Manga village in Mardan district,
who was the first Pakistani to die from coronavirus. To celebrate his homecoming
after Umrah, he had hosted a feast in which rice and meat cooked in degs
(cauldrons) was served to hundreds of guests. The number of Manga villagers who
have tested positive for the virus is has reached 40 and is rising.
The Government of Punjab declared a health emergency on 12 March in a cabinet
meeting. A quarantine facility was established in the Dera Ghazi Khan district
for the pilgrims returning from Iran.
On 20 March, the Pakistan Army helped to set up a 10,000-bed field hospital at
Karachi's Expo Centre to isolate and treat confirmed patients. All expenses for
its establishment were born by the provincial government. On 21 March, the
Government of Sindh announced a lockdown in the province for 14 days. On 22
March, the government decided to close down shopping malls, markets, parks and
public gathering places for two days till 24 March.
Punjab Chief Minister, Sardar Usman Buzdar urged people to stay at home,
practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary travel. Despite this, local
media reported that many residents in Lahore had failed to practice the measures
and downright defied it by opening up businesses and gathering in large numbers
on various public grounds.
Two incidents highlighted the fact that tough measures by the government can
work to make people abide by the law even if it concerns clerics and students of
religion who are sometimes able to exploit religious sentiments to escape
accountability. Police officers have been detaining shopkeepers for not keeping
hand sanitizers in case they need to take thumb impressions of their customers.
The media has also reported on the rush of customers doing panic buying and the
quick and steep rise in prices of facemasks as the pandemic began spreading in
Pakistan. A funny man in a video remarked that it had been proven once again
that Pakistanis respected ‘danda’ (stick, meaning force).
Prime Minister Imran Khan urged the United States President Donald Trump to
temporarily lift sanctions on Iran. He stated on Twitter, “I want to appeal to
President Trump on humanitarian grounds to lift the sanctions against Iran till
the COVID-19 pandemic is over.” The Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi raised
the issue of external debt faced by the country and how it should be relieved in
repayment of loans on the phone with Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister.
Qureshi reportedly told Maas that united efforts were required for dealing with
the pandemic and that debt relief could help Pakistan in better handling of the
outbreak in the country.
The federal government's economic relief package also benefited the healthcare
professionals in the country. It was decided that if a doctor or a paramedic
died while treating coronavirus patients, they would be considered martyrs and
their families would receive the package that is given to martyrs.
Making a landmark, the Pakistani Law enforcement presented the Guard of honor as
a mark of respect from 27–29 March to the doctors and Paramedical staff fighting
on the front lines of the global COVID-19 outbreak across the nation in Sukkur,
Quetta, and Dera Islamic Khan. The medical staff of a Mayo hospital in Lahore
was given a guard of honor by the Lahore police for their efforts to help
Pakistan fight the coronavirus pandemic. Observing social distance
(home-quarantined) citizens of Pakistan together with celebrities raised white
flags on 27 March across Pakistan from their balconies, rooftops expressing love
for the doctors and Para-medics who are combating without fearing from the
epidemic COVID-19 virus.
I also call upon my Christian brethren who would want to come to churches on
Friday and Sunday to avoid large gatherings. In the end, the Almighty will
reward you for your intentions. If we can’t go to a church, mosque or temple, we
can pray or worship at home with our families, God shall hear us. We, the people
of all faiths, should pray to God to save us from this plague.