KARACHI: “I am confident coronavirus will stay clear of me and I will stay clear of harm’s way because when I was leaving home my mother read a few ayat from Quran Shareef before blowing on me to protect me from any kind of misfortune, especially infectious diseases,” Bilal Mohammad Hussain, an express bus driver, told Dawn on Saturday while waiting for the passengers to board his bus near Empress Market.
When asked about the ayat, Hussain said he wasn’t sure “but I know it is in Surah Al-Baqarah, on page 27 of my mother’s copy of Quran”.
Having overheard our conversation, Mohammad Rashid, the ticket seller sitting at the counter, pulled out his smartphone to play the ayat for us. “I have been reciting it myself,” he said. “But yes, our faith gives us confidence to face our fears. We are also taking precautions such as mopping the bus floor with phenyl and antibacterial solutions before the passengers get on board,” he said, adding that the cancellation of flights to all except three big cities of the country had diverted many passengers to them.
Despite coronavirus threat, families are heading upcountry via train, bus services
“Since the domestic flights are only running between Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, people are getting off in the city nearest to their destination and then taking the bus. So there is more pressure upon us. I have sold double the amount of tickets for buses headed to cities such as Hyderabad, Larkana, Jacobabad, etc, than I do in a day,” he said.
When asked if they had anyone to check people’s temperature or anyone to distribute protective disposable masks or any literature or flyers regarding awareness about the spread of COVID-19, the ticket seller shook his head.
“I think people already know a lot by now thanks to the media. They are themselves quite careful. If they see anyone coughing or anyone with a runny nose, they refuse to sit near him or her on the bus,” he said. “But that person has also bought a ticket so also needs to travel. Therefore, we change seat for whoever has a problem with sitting near the person but we don’t offload him or her,” he informed.
On pointing out that in case, God forbid, what if the person might really be infected and is a risk for others, a passenger about to board a bus said that he had faith that illness and wellness come from God Almighty. “When we have faith in Him, He will also protect us. Besides, Pakistan is a Muslim country. The majority is Muslim here. We pray five times a day and before saying our prayers we do our ablutions which helps wash away viruses and bacteria,” he said.
At Cantt station
“Coronavirus may have reached our country’s airports for them to go to the extent of cancelling international flights and partially close the airports but it is yet to lift its threatening head at our railway stations,” joked a Pakistan Railways official at the inquiry desk of the Cantonment Railway Station.
He said that although the station platforms and train compartments had been fumigated twice since the morning, and they have put up awareness posters and distributed awareness flyers, they were working as if nothing was wrong.
“This is a busy public place and we are working here with hardly any protective measures. The scouts administering polio drops to children look clean wearing masks but what about us? We have no protective masks, no hand sanitizers. We are quite exposed, actually,” he said.
He also added that since the cancellation of flights to most cities of the country, they had also been seeing a class of passengers who were not normally seen at train stations. “The Clifton and Defence gentry is also heading here to catch the train and Pakistan Railways is doing well, actually. Although we wish it did well in different circumstances,” he said.
The Clifton gentry could not be missed. Although some of them had missed their train and looked rather confused at Platform No 1 along with their luggage.
“The schools are closed and we were taking the kids to Punjab because they are bored at home. Punjab is safe because it is clear of coronavirus, we hear,” said Tayabba, who was also busy telling someone over the phone where to find them and bring the car to pick up their luggage besides taking them back home. “We are not used to travelling by train. And we didn’t realise that the train departing from the station was the one we were to board. I thought trains in Pakistan are always late,” she laughed.
Other passengers were waiting for their respective trains at the station. When asked why they couldn’t wait to travel later and had opted to travel particularly now when there was such a huge risk of catching a dangerous virus, Dr Mohammad Arshad, who was there with his family, smiled and said: “I am not going to lock myself up from fear of catching anything. Confinement is like a punishment for me.”
Asked then if it would have been better to have taken precautionary measures and maybe wear a protective mask, he said that he thought the masks were substandard and not good enough to protect one from coronavirus.
Meanwhile, a young couple, Mohsin and Naila, was fussing over their three-year-old daughter Zainab, trying to make her keep her protective mask on. They even had it in different colours to keep her interested. “I also doubt the nylon mask will do anything for the child. It is only an anti-dust mask,” Dr Arshad shrugged after noticing the young parents.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2020