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Govt asked to withdraw deal with clerics, enforce complete lockdown

Doctors, WHO, and HRCP warn the government against the spike in Coronavirus cases if religious congregations allowed


High Asia Herald Report


Islamabad/Lahore/Gilgit: Doctors, world health watchdog, and a premier human rights body have alarmed at the spike in coronavirus cases in Pakistan and urged the government to enforce a complete lockdown.

They have also asked the PTI-led government and clerics to reverse an agreement to allow prayer congregations at mosques during the fasting month of Ramazan.

Addressing press conferences at Karachi, Lahore, and Gilgit on Thursday, the representatives of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), Islamic Medical Association (IMA), and Young Doctors Association (YDA) warned that the spread of coronavirus could spiral out of control.

PMA, YDA representatives address a press conference at Karachi Press Club on Wednesday.

Pakistan on Saturday last (April 18) lifted precautionary restrictions on congregational prayers. The decision came three days after clerics said such limitations were not acceptable and after several incidents of clashes between police and worshippers.

Congregations increase in size during Ramazan, which started in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Friday and will begin elsewhere in the country on Saturday.

The country’s leading English language daily Dawn in an editorial comment on Friday also questioned the government and clerics’ deal on congregations.

LAHORE: Addressing a news conference at Lahore Press Club on Thursday, PMA representatives questioned the government and clerics’ decision.

“The rulers have made a wrong decision; our clerics have shown a non-serious attitude,” Dr Qaiser Sajjad, secretary-general, PMA said.

Pakistan, the world’s second-most populous Muslim country after Indonesia, has reported more than 11,000 cases of the coronavirus, including 230 deaths. Both the government and experts say the peak for infections is expected to hit in May.

On April 14, Pakistan extended a nationwide lockdown for two weeks but eased restrictions on some activities, including construction, key industrial production, and mosques.

The doctors said a 20-point standard operating procedure (SOPs) for mosques agreed between the government and religious leaders was not practicable.

Another doctor at the news conference, Dr Saad Niaz, said coronavirus facilities in Karachi, had already reached maximum capacity.

At this rate, Dr Niaz added, medical facilities will face great difficulties in the coming days, and patients will have to be denied admission because there will be no beds.

In a statement distributed at the news conference, the doctors called for strict enforcement of lockdowns, urging businesses to bear with the hardships for a few more weeks until the virus can be brought under control.

While recommending countrywide complete lockdown and ban on all kinds of religious activities, the Punjab chapter of PMA has warned that the number of Covid-19 cases is many times more than what is being presented due to the low capacity of testing.

PMA Punjab President Dr Ashraf Nizami addressing a press conference at the Lahore Press Club on Thursday.

According to media reports, PMA Lahore President Prof Dr Ashraf Nizami said: “The cases are in millions while the test capacity could not reach 20,000 daily in Pakistan to combat the coronavirus,”.

He told the media that he had appealed to the chief justice of Pakistan and the federal government to review its decision of allowing the prayers in mosques. While rejecting the recent decision of exemption to the various categories of business and people, he said such activities would further spread the virus.

Mr Nizami said the country’s health infrastructure is not capable of bearing the burden of the coronavirus.

“No one can follow the social distancing of six feet in the religious congregations and prayers besides other worship places,” said the PMA leader.

He asked the government to come up with a new strategy of social distancing during Ramazan to avoid the worst situation like Italy, Spain, England, and America were facing these days.

Strategic preparedness and response plan

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Thursday said the number of estimated coronavirus cases in Pakistan can rise to an estimated 200,000 by mid-July if “effective interventions” are not taken.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom at the launch of the Pakistan National Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan virtual conference said that the required funding for the plan was $595 million which would be allocated to support various measures.

Pakistan’s COVID19 Response Plan is a joint strategy of the Pakistan government, the UN and partners.

“Without effective interventions, there could be an estimated 200K+ cases by mid-July. The impacts on the economy could be devastating, doubling the number of people living in poverty. We must act in solidarity, with a coherent, coordinated approach,” Dr Tedros was quoted as saying.

The worldwide death toll from the novel coronavirus pandemic rose to 188,846, according to the latest international media reports.

More than 2,697,084 declared cases have been registered in 193 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December. Of these cases, at least 739,876 are now considered recovered.

YDA, PSA representatives address a media conference at Gilgit Press Club on Thursday.

GILGIT: PMA president Mohammad Iqbal, general secretary Fida Hussain, YDA GB chapter president Dr Ejaz Ayub and Paramedical Staff Association (PSA) president Shahid Hussain while addressing a press conference at the local press club said that religious and social gatherings were being held across Gilgit-Baltistan without any restrictions.

They pleaded the government to enforce lockdown effectively to stop the COVID-19 from spiraling out of control in the mountainous region.

They also expressed concern at the lack of testing facilities and protection equipment for the doctors and nurses. They demanded the provision of PPEs and an increase in the number of testing facilities.

They alarmed at gatherings and sports activities being organised across the region after easing lockdown.

Dr Iqbal said an increase in locally-transmitted cases was alarming. He was of the view that health facilities in the region were not capable to cope with the alarming situation.

Mr Hussain slammed the GB government for not taking medical professionals into confidence before formulating SOPs to contain coronavirus. He said PPEs were not provided to medical staff in remote areas.

About lack of testing facilities, Dr Ayub said currently 150 suspected patients are being tested daily. He demanded the provision of rapid PCR machines to the hospitals in Gilgit and Diamer for Covid-19 patients’ test.

They warned that the pandemic could spread across the region if strict lockdown was not enforced.

Muslims maintain safe distance as they attend Friday prayer after government limited congregational prayers and ordered to stay home, in efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), in Karachi, Pakistan on April 17, 2020.- Photo: Reuters

Govt’s indecisive response

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also alarmed at the way the federal government is handling the public health crisis.

HRCP Chairperson Dr Mehdi Hasan in a statement on Thursday said: “There is an absence of clarity in the federal government’s measures– a clarity without which it cannot hope to curb the pandemic and create space for the country’s already fragile healthcare system.”

The government in Islamabad has sown confusion among the population by relaying mixed messages about the lockdown and inciting its supporters in Sindh to undermine the actions taken by the provincial government.

Instead of learning from the experience of more developed countries that have suffered hugely at the hands of this pandemic, the federal government remains indecisive.

Worryingly, despite clear warnings from the PMA, it has allowed congregations in Ramazan under pressure from certain clerics, even though this contravenes lockdown decisions in other Muslim countries.

When a large part of the population across Pakistan is at risk, it is deeply disappointing to see the federal government indulge in scoring political points against a provincial government, while capitulating to the big business and religious lobbies, the commission said.

 Stark warning

There is palpable alarm among Pakistan’s medical community, a sense of foreboding that the country could be on the cusp of an unmanageable crisis says Dawn in its editorial. Three times this week, they have urgently asked the government to reconsider its decision to ease lockdown measures. On Wednesday, eminent health experts and representatives of major physicians and surgeons’ associations addressed a press conference in Karachi, warning that any laxity in enforcing social distancing now “would prove disastrous” for the country.

The day before, around a dozen doctors had written to the government asking it to withdraw its permission for congregational prayers during Ramazan, the paper comments.

On April 22, Pakistan passed the grim milestone of 10,000 Covid-19 cases including 224 deaths.

Medical professionals are putting their lives on the line each day they come into contact with those infected by the virus, from the initial testing stage, and throughout treatment. A single breach in the protocol — perhaps an N95 mask reused once too often or an accidental mistake in wearing or removing personal protective equipment — can expose them to the contagion and its consequences, the paper comments.

Over 160 healthcare providers in Sindh alone have so far tested positive. Sadly, those armed with expertise are not only up against bull-headed ignorance, which is bad enough, but also deliberate disinformation. The crass allegation by the Punjab chief minister’s former spokesman, that the presser in Karachi was held at the PPP’s behest, is precisely the kind of cynical ‘pandemic politicking’ that deflects from the stark warnings by medical personnel, comments Dawn.

Pakistan’s underfunded health sector is barely able to cope with the regular caseload, let alone an exceptional emergency like the present. If we do not ‘flatten the curve’ by enforcing a strict lockdown — the only way proven to be effective — the amplified pressure on this creaky edifice could be its undoing. Also, consider that around 10pc of those infected need respiratory support, but public hospitals in Punjab alone have only 1,245 ventilators — and 77 of them are out of order. With the caseload rising exponentially in the past few weeks, health personnel could be faced with wrenching decisions about which Covid-19 patients to treat with the limited resources available. We are on a knife-edge. Listen to the experts, the editorial comment concluded.


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