COVID-19 effects in Pakistan

(Rashid Ob, )

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.

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