In times of a pandemic breakout, citizens look up to their government for direction. But in Pakistan, the Imran Khan government has no plan and no direction to deal with the coronavirus, or COVID-19. In fact, Pakistan’s 70-year-old president Arif Alvi even visited China, at a time when everyone is avoiding the country. He even shook hands, a gesture that is akin to an invitation to death in these times. Why? To display Pakistan’s solidarity with its BFF. He was the first head of state to visit Beijing after the coronavirus outbreak.
While claiming to learn from the Chinese way of handling the crisis, there is no on-ground action in Pakistan that supports the claim.
China locked down several cities, including Wuhan — the epicentre of the outbreak — in Hubei province and banned travel to contain the spread of coronavirus. But in Pakistan, even after a significant surge in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, there is no government order to lock down the affected areas. There are no travel restrictions.
In fact, the Imran Khan government thinks that allowing international flights “only” at Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore airports, which are the bigger cities, is some kind of a foolproof way to stop the virus spread, knowing fully well that the screening process for passengers is faulty and there is no facility to quarantine those affected.
Out of the total 296 coronavirus cases, the southern province of Sindh is the worst hit with 208 positive cases.
Source of Pakistan’s worry
This sudden surge is due to the negligence of the Imran Khan government, which didn’t properly test and quarantine thousands of pilgrims arriving from Iran in the border city of Taftan, Balochistan. The pilgrims were packed together in unhygienic tents without medical facilities and access to clean bathrooms. Unsurprisingly, it became a nursery for coronavirus. Sindh officials shared how most of the newer cases were of travellers coming from the so-called quarantined zone in Taftan. This is how lack of seriousness and the absence of any sound policy bears fruit.
Or it has stopped the virus reaching to millions?
Quarantine at taftaan restricted and limited people and made all of us know each areas people there
— Jam Kamal Khan (@jam_kamal) March 17, 2020
But for Prime Minister Imran Khan, nothing was amiss. In his address to the nation on the issue of coronavirus, he paid rich tributes to the Balochistan government and the Pakistan Army for their work at Taftan. If the plan is to win the fight against coronavirus with delusion, then, like the 1971 war, we might have won the COVID-19 war already.
World leaders are telling people that COVID-19 pandemic is a serious problem and they must remain extra cautious — that there is a cause for worry. Even at home, Sindh chief minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has been sharing numbers and telling people that they need to worry — remain indoors as much as possible.
But PM Imran Khan can say with extreme casualness: “Aap ne ghabrana nahi hai (don’t panic)”. Only 3 per cent of people tested positive, who are old and already have multiple health issues, are mostly at risk — the remaining 97 per cent people recover, the PM argued. So, citizens above 65 or those younger — but with various health conditions — don’t have a reason to worry, right?
Not learning from others
One fails to understand why the government hasn’t sought proactive help of the military yet, when the National Institute of Health is headed by a Major General. Countries like India, Canada and United States have all used their military bases for quarantine facilities; both the UK and the US are relying on their armies to set up field hospitals. But the Pakistan government has no clear policy for its army either. Downplaying the severity of coronavirus seems to be the only strategy here.
Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran have banned group prayers in mosques. But in Pakistan, the Friday Jumma prayers will likely continue. Despite the warning that Pakistan could be following in Italy’s footsteps if public gatherings aren’t avoided, there is no push from the government to ban these large congregations. Instead, Punjab CM Sardar Usman Buzdar is meeting Ulemas and assuring them that mosques won’t be closed. Shia clerics have vowed to continue their religious gatherings and shrine visits, because according to them, congregations heal people, not infect them.
Barelvi cleric Muhammad Ashraf Asif Jalali is confident of holding an All Pakistan Sunni conference in Lahore on March 21: “No one can get sick except as per the will of God. If anyone gets infected with coronavirus due to our conference, then (the Pakistan government) should hang me.” That’s coronavirus 101 for us all.
#Barelvi cleric Asif Ashraf Jalali @TheDrJalali: We shall hold All Pakistan Sunni conference in Lahore on March 21. No one can get sick except as per the will of God. If anyone gets infected with #coronavirus due to our conference, Pakistan govt should hang me. pic.twitter.com/lu4WKjj0ES
— SAMRI (@SAMRIReports) March 15, 2020
Defence Minister Pervez Khattak confidently declared that coronavirus is under control in Pakistan, because the government had banned all public gatherings and political rallies. He said this while addressing one such ‘banned’ public rally in Nowshera. Now we know how ‘under control’ coronavirus is in Pakistan.
Loudmouths and desi remedies
There is one PTI minister, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, who is telling us that coronavirus is god’s punishment just like disabled children are the punishment for the misdeed of their parents.
Punjab provincial information minister fayyaz chohan says Fayyaz says children with disabilities are a punishment from God for the parents, links disability and disability of children with wrongdoing and corruption by parents. Unbelievable. pic.twitter.com/k3zbwWcJfn
— Murtaza Ali Shah (@MurtazaViews) March 17, 2020
The same minister has also promised to beat coronavirus like we beat terrorism in Pakistan. Now how many decades that would take, he didn’t mention.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advisory is to test, test and test. PM Imran Khan’s advisory is: don’t run to the hospital for tests, just sit at home and wash your hands. Yes, prevention is important, and the biggest weapon against coronavirus we have, but it can’t substitute testing. Two months late for the awareness campaign too, as many think.
World leaders are looking at ways to treat, cure or take precaution against coronavirus but it is only Imran Khan who wants Pakistan’s debt written off. All in the garb of coronavirus. He is telling the world that Pakistan won’t have money if the situation goes out of hand and yet he is funding ventures at home for his own self-promotion. How does that work in a health emergency? It wants to beg the world but when asked to be part of SAARC on COVID-19, it goes in the ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ mode. That too on the shoulders of health advisor Zafar Mirza, whose is accused of smuggling 20 million face masks.
When it comes to desi remedies for curing coronavirus, Balochistan CM Jam Kamal Khan has been kind to share forwarded-as-received corona cure: Gargle with salt and vinegar. His photoshopped image of leading a meeting on coronavirus is reason enough to take his high stature seriously.
— Jam Kamal Khan (@jam_kamal) March 14, 2020
And on social distancing, Fawad Chaudhry has the last word: “Humen are not programmed for Quarantine and our dependence on eachother is a precondition of Society and life,Isolation is only a very short term measure, salvation of human race depends on Science and Scientists how quickly they can respond to challenge #CoronavirusOutbreak.”
We wonder what we would do if Chaudhry hadn’t given us this earth-shattering information.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.