KARACHI: “It is being taken as a joke all over on Facebook and social media ... Coronavirus is not a joke. Do not take it lightly ... it is a devastating virus ... Take it seriously ... Do not run after food ... Restrict yourself at home ... Take care of yourself for the sake of your family ...”
These are some of the last words uttered with great difficulty while struggling to breathe by the late Dr Osama Riaz from his hospital bed. The doctor, who contracted the coronavirus while screening pilgrims returning to Pakistan from Iran, passed away on Sunday.
Each day, there are hundreds of doctors putting their lives on the line as they go about their work of helping humanity. The deadly virus has not deterred them from their work. Instead, it has strengthened their resolve.
There are other brave people also standing on the front lines during this pandemic as they provide essential services to the population.
Attendants at fuel stations and medical stores are also exposed to risk besides doctors and law enforcers
Every day, Imran Maqbool is at a pharmacy in Clifton filling prescriptions. “We are here to serve but our families are not very pleased about it, especially during these times of coronavirus with so many sick people coming to us for medicines,” the pharmacist tells Dawn. “Still, how can we close pharmacies with thousands of people depending on us for their medicine? We look after their needs, Allah Almighty will look after ours and keep us safe. That’s the belief which keeps us going,” he adds.
Noticing a junior assistant in the shop then, reaching out for a box on a high shelf without a mask or gloves, Maqbool excuses himself for a second before turning to another assistant and telling him to tell the kid not to be seen inside the shop without protective measures.
“We encounter coughing and sneezing customers all the time here. We have to be careful even if they aren’t,” he says.
The ambulance drivers, representing various foundations, say that the coronavirus pandemic makes no difference to their work as they do their duty like they have always done. “Yes, there is one difference that we are not wearing gloves and masks. But we are doing the same kind of work we have always been doing,” says Mohammad Ali, a volunteer with the Edhi Foundation. “The deserted roads during the lockdown have somewhat made our job easier as we no longer need to manoeuvre through the traffic while yelling in the loudspeaker to make way for us to pass. But the patients we have in the back may be injured, unwell or suffering from the coronavirus, it makes no difference to us. We just have to transport them. That’s what we do. While we look out for them, some power must also be looking out for us,” he smiles looking skywards.
Petrol stations are open during the lockdown from 8am to 8pm. “The people need us to fuel up their vehicles so here we are,” says one of the men at a busy petrol pump in the city. “There are so many people coming here, especially at this time. Many of them are also buying extra fuel in cans as they are leaving the city by road in their cars and are not sure of finding other pumps or service stations open on the way,” he adds.
Traffic police constable Rashid Khan also thinks he is doing nothing special. “Just doing our job,” he says through his light-green mask which matches his florescent green vest. Asked if anyone at home was concerned that he was out and about on the roads during the pandemic, Khan shakes his head. “Life is important for everyone,” he says. “Our families are not afraid for us because they know that we are not little children. We have been trained for what we do. In fact, our family’s faith in our abilities gives us confidence to do our work better and to serve you better,” he says.
Some of the busy intersections of the city also have Sindh police, Rangers and army personnel present on duty, besides the traffic police.
Clifton ASP Zahida Parveen is also there. “Despite a lockdown, we are seeing so many people here. They refuse to stay indoors and they refuse to take protective measures to keep themselves safe,” she says. “I am encountering so many women who have come out with their families for joyrides at such a critical time. And I am here for them, to help them and to make them aware of how the coronavirus spreads and how they can protect themselves. I care about them. I have my own family at home who I left behind to care for these people who do not care about themselves,” she says.
Zahida adds that her husband is very supportive but her children are very young and also need her. “My 11-month-old doesn’t understand much about my work but my five-year-old does,” she shares. “Each night when I reach home, she asks if I was out catching criminals. I tell her that this time I am out catching the coronavirus,” she smiles.
DIG-South Sharjeel Kharal says that despite the tough job, he finds his officers’ morale quite good. “They are working 12-hour-long shifts in this crisis, but they are also taking care of themselves by changes in deployment within a shift and by keeping themselves fit and hydrated,” he says.
Asked why the police also needed Rangers and the army, the DIG says that locking down Karachi is not so simple. “This is one of the largest cities of the world with a bulging social and vibrant population which is also under stress right now. They need to be dealt with gently but firmly,” he says while glancing at his colleagues whom he has faith in.
Both Sindh Rangers and army personnel when asked to comment on their feelings working at such a critical time refused to comment, with apologies.
Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020